Vladimir Putin will not be attending the BRICS trade summit in South Africa thereby avoiding the risk of arrest.
The South African government broke the news with the following statement: “By mutual agreement, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation will not attend the Summit, but the Russian Federation will be represented by Foreign Minister, Mr Sergey Lavrov.”
The BRICS bloc is made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Mr Putin will instead attend by videocall, according to the Kremlin.
The announcement follows weeks of will-he-won’t-he speculation and flies in the face of understandings the Russian leader had been determined to go.
South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa had been under increasing pressure to commit his government to arresting the Russian leader should he attend.
In court documents, he is quoted as saying that doing so would be regarded as a “declaration of war” with Russia and inconsistent with South Africa’s constitution.
But as a signatory to the treaty underpinning the International Criminal Court, South Africa is fully beholden to arrest anyone indicted by it.
Both Mr Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova Belova, have been indicted for the alleged war crime of child deportations.
Ukraine says a minimum of 19,000 children have been taken by Russia.
This week, the UK sanctioned a number of Russians alleged to have been involved in the deportations.
A Sky News investigation has revealed how many have been taken deep into Russia, dispersed among families, orphanages, camps and boarding schools.
Russia is accused of a systematic programme of taking children with the aim of ‘Russifying’ them.
The BRICS summit normally comprises the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Mr Putin’s decision not to attend reinforces the impression he is becoming an international pariah.