“The arrest would also undermine a South African-led mission to end the war in Ukraine and foreclose any peaceful solution,” Mr Ramaphosa stated.
South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has said any attempt to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin as he plans to visit the country next month would be “a declaration of war with Russia.
“Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war,” Mr Ramaphosa said in court documents released Tuesday.
Mr Putin was invited to a BRICS summit in Johannesburg this August but is the target of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant – a provision that Pretoria as an ICC member, would be expected to implement were he to attend.
South Africa is the current chair of the BRICS. The group includes Brazil, Russia, India and China, which sees itself as a counter-balance to Western economic domination.
The country’s diplomatic dilemma is playing out in court, where the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is trying to force the government’s hand and ensure the Kremlin leader is arrested and handed over to the ICC if he steps foot in South Africa.
But Mr Ramaphosa described the DA’s application as “irresponsible,” saying that national security was at stake. The South Africa President said the country is seeking an exemption under ICC rules because enacting the arrest could threaten the “security, peace and order of the state.”
“It would be inconsistent with our constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia. The arrest would also undermine a South African-led mission to end the war in Ukraine and foreclose any peaceful solution,” he stated.
The ICC treaty states that a member country should consult the court when it identifies problems that may impede the execution of a request and that the court may not proceed with requesting an arrest if this would require a state to break international rules on diplomatic immunity.
The ICC is seeking Mr Putin’s arrest over accusations that Russia unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.
In recent interviews with local media, Deputy President Paul Mashatile said the South African government has been trying to persuade Mr Putin not to come.
Mr Mashatile said the country’s effort to prevail over the Russian president was unsuccessful.
South Africa has strong economic and trade relations with the United States and Europe.
Trade with Russia is much smaller, but Pretoria has ties with Moscow dating back to when the Kremlin supported the governing African National Congress in its struggle against apartheid.
Last month, Mr Ramaphosa led a seven-country African peace delegation, including representatives from Egypt, Senegal and Zambia, to talks in Kyiv and Saint Petersburg.