South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that his country would risk ‘war’ with Russia if it arrested Russian President Vladimir Putin at a diplomatic summit in Johannesburg next month, New York Times reported.
Ramaphosa made the revelations in a court affidavit made public on Tuesday.
He was responding to a petition by South Africa’s largest opposition political party, the Democratic Alliance, that asked a court in Pretoria, the nation’s executive capital, to force the government to arrest Putin if he attended the summit, in Johannesburg, in late August.
The court is expected to hear arguments in the case on Friday.
As per NYT, Putin is the subject of an arrest warrant on accusations related to the war in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court, and the warrant makes South Africa — as a signatory to the court — legally obliged to arrest the Russian president.
“Russia has made it clear that arresting Putin would be a declaration of war,” Ramaphosa said in his affidavit.
“It would be inconsistent with our Constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia,” NYT quoted the 32-page affidavit.
Ramaphosa argued in his affidavit that South Africa’s Bill of Rights required the government to protect and promote certain rights, including “the right to be free from all forms of violence.”
“An act that would be perceived as a declaration of war by Russia would be reckless,” Ramaphosa wrote, and conflict with his and “the government’s constitutional obligations,” NYT reported.
The South African President further argued that arresting Putin would conflict with South Africa’s effort to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine.
Ramaphosa joined several African leaders last month in a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv and then with Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia, to discuss a path to ending the war — a mission that was met with scepticism from both, NYT reported.
South Africa has been exploring options that would allow it to avoid arresting Putin if he goes to Johannesburg, and this affidavit is the clearest indication of that.
Ramaphosa added in his affidavit that he was consulting with the leaders of each BRICS country, and he asked the court to give him time to complete the consultation.
Last week, South Africa’s deputy president, Paul Mashatile, said that his country had raised the possibility of holding the summit virtually or moving it to China, but both options were rejected by South Africa’s BRICS partners
Mashatile added that Russian officials have resisted a suggestion of Putin’s foreign minister attending the summit in his place, NYT reported.
The long-planned meeting of the heads of state of BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — is scheduled to be held from August 22-24.