Damned if you do, damned if you don’t – Putin and the BRICS summit

Putin’s decision to avoid the BRICS summit is not all it seems. Between 22 and 24 August, South Africa will have the honour of hosting the 2023 annual BRICS summit. The big names – Brazil, India, China and the hosts, South Africa – will be present in full force. The Russian President will not.

BRICS continues to go from strength to strength. Over 40 nations have expressed an interest in membership and 22 have made formal applications to join. By forming its own trading bloc, BRICS represents a thorn in the side of the West – even French President Macron is expressing unprecedented interest in attending the summit.

Despite being a key pioneer in orchestrating the rise of BRICS, Vladimir Putin confirmed in a recent press announcement that he would not be attending this year’s summit. The Western media line is that as a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), South Africa would have to arrest him for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Putin is therefore sending his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, in his place. Observers of events in Russia will remember that not long ago Lavrov became out of favour with Putin for failing to produce the goods needed following diplomatic talks with China at the start of his war in Ukraine in 2022.

All in all, it looks like a lose–lose situation for Putin. Attend – and he risks causing a constitutional crisis, facing unthinkable conflict with one of his strongest remaining African allies. Stay at home – and it will be a challenge for Russian propaganda channels to portray Putin as the ironman leader to in-country and foreign allies from a Zoom call.

Cyril Ramaphosa insists that he would not do the ICC’s bidding were Putin to ever set foot in South Africa. It seems, therefore, that Putin’s decision to avoid the BRICS summit may be more to do with protecting himself from his enemies at home. The Russian State media is keeping its cards close to its chest for now. References to the summit and analysis on the matter are currently limited to the occasional Russian press update.

It could transpire that Moscow has evaluated the risks, concluding that the trip to one of his main African allies poses too many dangers to his own personal security. However, making himself look weak by not attending the summit in person will not be forgotten quickly by those in and around him. With the war in Ukraine dragging on, it appears that outside the gates of the Kremlin there is a line of Romans – and that one of them is simply waiting for the right opportunity to stab Putin in the back.

To download a copy of this article, please click here.