Arresting Putin is like 'declaring war', South Africa says

Friday June 09 2023

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (L) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi on October 23, 2019. PHOTO | SERGEI CHIRIKOV | AFP


South Africa says it cannot attempt to arrest Russian President Vladmir Putin as it will amount to declaring war on another state.

Pretoria’s Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni made it clear that South Africa is not planning to act on the arrest warrant issued by International Criminal Court (ICC) to put President Putin behind bars should he arrive in the southern African country later in the year.

As a member of the ICC, South Africa is obliged to arrest Putin. However, according to Ms Ntshavheni, they have no intentions of doing so as the country cannot afford to risk war with Russia.

Last week, South Africa issued a blanket immunity to all delegates of the upcoming BRICS Summit due in August on its soil. It said such moves are routine to ensure official delegations enjoy privileges while on duty during the conference of emerging economies, China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa. However, it was directly shielding the country from any obligations on arrest of Putin, now indicted for war crimes in Ukraine.

Read: Why ICC wants Putin arrested

The arrest warrant against Mr Putin is for the alleged war crimes regarding the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia. In the past, a similar blanket immunity by officials was ruled unconstitutional by the courts, after South Africa failed to arrest then Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, also indicted for war crimes.


“The deputy chairperson of the security council of Russia has indicated that anyone who arrests President Putin will be tantamount to a declaration of war with Russia," said Mrs Ntshavheni.

"I don't think this country wants us to declare war with Russia, so cabinet and the inter-ministerial committee continue to work within those permutations to say what are the options we have given our legal obligations, given the applications of our law and what can be done when the summit continues, and President Putin needs to be here."

The Minister was addressing a post-Cabinet press conference on Thursday, while issuing an update on the BRICS Summit preparations.

In addition, the Minister reiterated that South Africa would host the BRICS summit in August and any changes would be announced.

Recent reports suggested that South Africa have asked China to stage the BRICS summit to avoid arresting President Putin.

Read: South Africa vows to keep Russia relations

Other reports also indicated that South Africa is looking at hosting the summit virtually.

However, Mrs Ntshavheni dismissed the reports insisting a decision will only be made after the inter-ministerial committee has finalised its work.

A committee of ministers have been appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to handle issues to do with the Russian leader’s arrest warrant and visit.

"When the time comes of a decision of how we are going to proceed on that matter, the necessary announcement will be made and we need to allow the IMC to work and to report to cabinet and allow cabinet space to take the decision," she said.

“We are considering all options, what we have indicated is that we work in pursuit of this country's national interest and the upholding of the rule of law in this country.”