Don’t let Putin in, Nobel prize winner tells South Africa

A Ukrainian Nobel peace prize winner on Wednesday called on South Africa not to allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend a BRICS summit in the country in August.

Oleksandra Romantsova, the head of an NGO that became the winner of Ukraine’s first ever peace prize last year, urged the South African government to “show us that they care”.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant against Putin in March meaning Pretoria, due to host the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa bloc summit this year, would have to detain him on arrival.

“For us South Africa is a place where people are fighting for freedom, for equality for dignity,” Romantsova, who was in South Africa to garner support for Ukraine, told a media briefing in Johannesburg.

– Putin visit would be ‘great disappointment’ –

If Putin were to come here and not be arrested it would “be a great disappointment,” she said.

The International Criminal Court warrant against Putin stems from accusations that Russia unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.

Romantsova, the executive director of the Kyiv-based Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), suggested the Russian president could attend the BRICS summit via Zoom — or send a minister who is not wanted by the ICC.

CCL, which has run successful campaigns for political prisoners, tracked enforced disappearances and highlighted Russian war crimes, shared the peace prize with Belarusian and Russian co-winners last year.

A continental powerhouse, South Africa has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine which has largely isolated Moscow on the international stage, saying it wants to stay neutral and prefers dialogue to end the war.

Earlier this year, it held a controversial joint military exercise with Russia and China, which critics cite as evidence of a tilt towards the Kremlin.

Romantsova, who came to South Africa as part of a delegation comprising academics and non-profit organisations, met with senior officials at the South African foreign ministry. But she was given the cold shoulder by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

“We are trying to meet (the ANC) and for me it’s surprising that it’s so difficult to organise such a meeting,” said Olexiy Haran, another member of the delegation and a politics professor at National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

Additional sources • AFP