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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday appeared to downplay not attending an economic summit in Johannesburg next month amid a controversy over an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court, saying he doesn't think his presence there is "more important than my presence here, in Russia.”
Putin's remarks come more than a week after South African authorities said he will not attend the Aug. 22-24 gathering, which brings together a bloc of developing economies known as BRICS, because of the warrant, even though he was initially invited.
The Kremlin said the Russian president will take part in the summit via video link, but didn't provide a reason for the decision and didn't say whether Putin had ever intended to attend in person.
Asked about his reasons for not going, Putin told Russian journalists Saturday that he's “in contact with all colleagues," referring to the leaders of Brazil, India, China and South Africa, which together with Russia constitute the BRICS bloc, and that he doesn't “think my presence at the BRICS summit is more important that my presence here, in Russia, right now."
“That's it,” Putin said, adding he will take part via video link and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will travel to the summit.
Moscow has showcased the BRICS alliance as an alternative to the West’s global dominance, but this year’s meeting has proved awkward for Putin following the ICC’s move in March to indict him for war crimes relating to the abduction of children from Ukraine.
South Africa is a signatory to the Rome treaty that formed the International Criminal Court and therefore has the obligation to arrest the Russian leader if he sets foot on South African territory.
South Africa had given strong hints that it would not arrest Putin if he attended but had also been lobbying for him not to come to avoid the problem.
Although Moscow dismissed the warrant, Putin has not traveled to a country that is a signatory to the ICC treaty since his indictment. Analysts have said that the public debate about whether the Russian leader would or would not travel to South Africa was in itself an unwelcome development for the Kremlin.