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Will Putin Attend the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg?

John Kirton, director, BRICS Research Group
July 16, 2023

Will Russian president Vladimir Putin participate in person in the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 22 to 24, 2023?

Probably not, although it is still too soon to say for sure.

If he does, he faces arrest by the summit's South African host. As a member of the International Criminal Court, South Africa is obliged to seize Putin for deporting Ukrainian children to Russia, pursuant to an ICC arrest warrant issued on March 17, 2023.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has already rejected the easy options of moving the summit to China, or to South Africa's neighbour Mozambique, or of holding his summit online, as the past few ones have been held.

He said he will hold an in-person summit, and has invited his four BRICS colleagues – China's President Xi Jinping, India's President Narendra Modi, Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Putin too.

But Ramaphosa is also sending senior representatives to Putin to ask him to decline this invitation, to resolve the BRICS dilemma in the easiest way.

And Putin has many good reasons to stay at home and, at best, participate only online.

Putin needs to focus on managing his failing invasion of Ukraine, and a Russian economy in serious decline.

And after the recent mutiny by his mercenary Wagner Group, he needs to end that threat and purge all his own high-ranking comrades who assisted or sympathized with it.

He knows that successful coups at home tend to happen when a country's leader is travelling abroad. Putin is invited to attend both the BRICS summit in South Africa and, a mere two weeks later, the more powerful and important G20 one in New Delhi, India, on September 9–10.

Even if he goes to Johannesburg, to show that all is well within Russia, he might be lectured, shunned or even boycotted by his fellow leaders at the summit. India and Brazil, like South Africa, are democracies that do not believe in invading other countries to abduct their children. And in March, Brazil's foreign minister Mauro Vieira stated: "Brazil is a member of the ICC, which we respect and (whose decisions) we recognize."

Even China now knows that Putin is failing, and will not want to rush to his side to rescue a visibly sinking ship.

Moreover, Putin solved a similar, less serious dilemma last November, before the ICC arrest warrant and the Wagner mutiny arose, by staying way from the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. He did not even participate on line, but sent his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov instead.

So Putin will probably stay at home and send Lavrov to Johannesburg in his place. And he will probably do this for the G20 summit too.

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