A major diplomatic crisis – which saw SA firmly in the crosshairs of the international community – appears to have been averted with yesterday’s confirmation that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the Brics summit next month.

It is reported that President Cyril Ramaphosa – who has played a delicate balancing act as the mega summit looms – yesterday announced that ‘by mutual agreement’, Putin will not attend and Russia will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Russia’s state media yesterday reported Putin would attend the conference virtually. Lavrov will be joined by the leaders of India, China, Brazil and SA.

The Presidency said a comprehensive statement on the substantive issues to be covered at the summit and other related foreign policy matters would be issued in due course.

‘President Ramaphosa is confident that the summit will be a success and calls on the nation to extend the necessary hospitality to the many delegates who will arrive from various parts of the continent and the globe,’ his office said.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in March issued a warrant for Putin's arrest for alleged war crimes perpetrated during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. SA, as a signatory to the Rome Statute, would be obliged to arrest him if he came into the country.

The dramatic development follows days of frenzied litigation which saw the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) ordering Ramaphosa to share his ‘secret’ affidavit in which he warned that arresting Putin would be a declaration of war against Russia.

The court ruled Ramaphosa and his government's response to the DA's legal attempt to force the government to arrest Putin should be made public.

The court further ordered advocacy organisation Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) be admitted as a friend of the court.

The organisation argued in favour of public access to Ramaphosa's affidavit. In his affidavit, MMA director William Bird said: ‘The more a matter implicates the need for accountability, truth-finding, and an assurance that justice has been done, the greater the need to ensure open justice.’ 

He had cited several Constitutional Court rulings in underscoring his argument, including a 2015 judgment on the covering of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial.

Business Day reports the Kremlin yesterday said Russia did not tell SA that arresting Putin would mean ‘war’.

Government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said ‘everyone understood, without having it explained to them, what an attempt to infringe on Putin’s rights would mean’.

Full Business Day report