South African opposition minority party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), has said Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcome to visit Pretoria despite an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against him.
The ICC, which South Africa is a signatory to, has accused Mr Putin of war crimes, which include the kidnapping of Ukrainian children in Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Putin is scheduled to travel to South Africa for the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in August.
EFF leader Julius Malema on Thursday said no one was going to arrest Mr Putin while in South Africa, a country where Russia “played a huge role to support the struggle for freedom”.
Mr Malema said that the South African government should not give in to pressure from the ICC, which he accused of “hypocrisy”.
“Putin is welcomed here. No one is going to arrest Putin. If need be, we will go and fetch Putin from the airport to his meetings. He will address, finish all his meetings, and we will take him back to the airport,” Mr Malema said.
“We know our friends. We know the people who liberated us. We know the people who supported us,” he added.
South Africa has close diplomatic relations with Moscow in spite of Western condemnations. Last month, its navy held joint exercises with Russian forces off the coast of South Africa. It has also abstained during UN votes condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In 2015, the South African government was criticised for letting then Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir leave the country despite an ICC arrest warrant.