President Cyril Ramaphosa has been called out for caving into United States of America (USA) pressure not to protect Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was expected to attend the BRICS summit in Johannesburg next month.
The West has also been accused of undermining South Africa’s sovereignty and independent foreign policy, by weaponising trade and resorting to economic blackmail to achieve its foreign policy objectives.
Yesterday, Ramaphosa’s office confirmed that they reached a “mutual agreement” with Putin that he was better off not setting foot in the country when BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) meet for their highly anticipated summit.
After months of uncertainty on whether he would attend the summit in person, following a furore over the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant, Putin opted to participate virtually.
“By mutual agreement, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation will not attend the Summit but the Russian Federation will be represented by Foreign Minister, Mr Sergey Lavrov. In due course, a comprehensive statement on the substantive issues to be covered at the Summit and other related foreign policy matters will be issued,” said Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya.
However, some opposition parties in South Africa are unimpressed with the Ramaphosa administration’s stance, as the role of the USA in the whole Putin saga.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the country’s third biggest political party, said it was not surprised that Putin had pulled out of the BRICS summit. Spokesperson Sinawo Thambo said the hype around Putin was part of the West’s attempt to undermine South Africa’s sovereignty and independent foreign policy.
“In a typical Western imperialist fashion, South Africa faced threats of losing financial and political ties with the West unless they arrested President Putin. The United States of America even threatened to withdraw South Africa from the African Growth and Opportunity Act as a form of pressure,” Thambo said.
He said Western countries were already demonstrating hostility toward South Africa. The US Ambassador to South Africa, Rueben Brigety, claimed in May that South Africa supplied weapons to a Russian cargo vessel, Thambo reiterated.
Poland also “deliberately humiliated” Ramaphosa, directly undermining the office of the president “even though a puppet occupies it”, by denying his security detail entry into the East European country during transit to Ukraine for the peace talks by African leaders.
“These are clear attempts by the West to undermine our sovereignty and independent foreign policy, pressuring our state to arrest President Putin upon his arrival.”
The EFF further warned BRICS nations that they should not expect much from the Ramaphosa government.
“The EFF cautions all member states of BRICS that South Africa is currently led by a spineless government that will never meaningfully take forward efforts to grow the strength of the Global South and its allies. Their noble efforts to fight against imperialism, the calls for the de-dollarisation, and for an alliance that will place BRICS nations on a stronger footing in the globe will always be undermined by a cowardly government in South Africa,” Thambo added.
African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (ARETA) leader Carl Niehaus blamed Ramaphosa for failing to protect Putin.
“ARETA considers this to be a disastrous development for South Africa’s already damaged position within BRICS. President Putin is not coming because Cyril Ramaphosa refused to give the required protection and support. It’s an utter disgrace,” said Niehaus.
The drama surrounding Putin’s physical attendance at the summit related to the ICC arrest warrant issued against him for alleged violation of human rights in Ukraine.
Putin has been accused of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children in November last year in the middle of Russia’s military operations against Ukraine, a claim Russia and its allies in the global South dismissed as bogus.
On May 30, the Democratic Alliance (DA) made an application in the Pretoria High Court requesting a declaratory order for Putin to be arrested should he attend the BRICS Summit.
This week, the court ordered that Ramaphosa’s affidavit in the matter be made public.
In the affidavit, Ramaphosa told the court that South Africa could not afford to arrest Putin because such action could result in a war with Russia.
A jovial DA leader John Steenhuisen said the ruling was a victory for the rule of law and proof that no one is above the law.
However, independent political analyst Gakwi Mashego believes the DA’s celebration is hollow because Putin was highly unlikely to attend the summit in person from the onset.
“I think the DA and others were just making noise over something that was not going to happen. South Africa learned a lot from the Omar al-Bashir saga when they failed to arrest him during his 2015 visit to South Africa. If the ICC made noise about a former Sudanese leader, what more about a Russian leader?” Mashego said.
He also accused the USA of hypocrisy for expecting South Africa to act on the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants when it is not a signatory to the Rome Statutes.
“However, we have to look at the hypocrisy that the USA is subjecting South Africa to. People seem not to know that Vladimir Putin can decide tomorrow to visit the United Nations in New York, USA, tomorrow if he wants to. The Americans will not arrest him, and the FBI will protect him because the USA is not a signatory to the ICC. Why is the USA interested in laws that do not bind it as a nation?” he said.