ANC welcomes Putin despite ICC warrant

The country is still “constrained” by the institution, a top party official has admitted

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South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is ready to greet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the country at any time, the party’s secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, has said.

The senior party official made the remarks in an interview with BBC HARDtalk’s host Stephen Sackur, who asked him whether he believed the country’s government would actually enforce the arrest warrant against Putin that was issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this year.

“If it were according to the ANC, we would want President Putin to be here, even tomorrow, to come to our country,” Mbalula stated, noting, however, that “we know that we’re constrained by the ICC in terms of doing that.”

The official somewhat avoided answering the question directly, suggesting it is not actually possible to simply go and arrest the leader of a country.

“Putin is the head of state, do you think that a head of state can just be arrested anywhere?” Mbalula went on, adding that the Russian president has actually been “working for peace between Ukraine and Russia.”

He also pressed the reporter over the questionable record of the UK itself and its Western allies, particularly former British PM Tony Blair, as well as the futile search for the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ used as a pretext to invade Iraq.

How many crimes has your country committed in Iraq? How many crimes has everyone else who’s so vocal today committed in Iraq and Afghanistan? Have you arrested them?

The remarks prompted Sackur to wrap up the discussion on the topic, with the journalist switching to questions about South African domestic affairs instead.

The ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the presidential commissioner for children’s rights, in mid-March, accusing them of taking part in the “unlawful deportation of the population (children) and that of the unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.” The Hague-based tribunal is not recognized by Moscow, and the move has no legal validity in Russia.

However, the ICC move cast a shadow over the upcoming BRICS summit, which is scheduled for August and hosted by South Africa. The country’s officials have produced mixed signals on the prospect of enforcing the warrant. In mid-April, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa even pledged to leave the ICC altogether, but he backtracked shortly thereafter, with his office claiming the president had made the remarks “erroneously.”

The warrant caused widespread condemnation in Russia and triggered legal action against the tribunal’s officials. This week, Russia’s Investigative Committee charged in absentia a prosecutor and an ICC judge with making false accusations against a foreign official under international protection in order to complicate international relations.

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