| 8 December 2023, Friday |

Putin discusses grain deal, awkward BRICs summit with Ramaphosa

The Black Sea grain contract, which is set to expire on Monday, and a conference in South Africa next month were topics of a phone chat between Russian President Vladimir Putin and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, according to the Kremlin on Saturday.

Because of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) March arrest order for Putin, who was accused of the war crime of sending Ukrainian minors to Russia, Ramaphosa is in an unusual situation as the BRICS summit’s host.

The warrant means member states of the ICC – of which South Africa is one – are obliged to arrest him if he sets foot on their territory. Russia said at the time that the warrant was “outrageous” and legally void because Russia is not an ICC member.

The Kremlin has yet to say publicly if Putin intends to go to the summit. In Saturday’s statement it said Ramaphosa had briefed Putin about preparations for the event, but did not give details of their exchange.

Ramaphosa’s office, in its readout of the call, did not mention the meeting of the BRICS group, which also includes Brazil, India and China.

It said the two men discussed an African peace initiative for Ukraine and “the need for a permanent and sustainable solution to the movement of grain from Russia and Ukraine to the international markets”.

The African plan was presented separately to Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy last month by a group of leaders including Ramaphosa, but has yet to gain any traction.

On the grain deal, which expires on Monday unless Russia agrees to extend it, Putin reiterated to Ramaphosa that commitments to remove obstacles to Russian food and fertiliser exports had not yet been fulfilled, the Kremlin said.

Russia has repeatedly said that for this reason it sees no grounds to renew the deal, originally struck a year ago to enable Ukraine to export grain from its Black Sea ports despite the war with Russia.

Putin told reporters on Thursday that rather than renew the arrangement next week, Moscow might pull out and wait for its demands to be met before rejoining.

Russia has threatened to quit the deal before, however, only to renew it at the last minute.

  • Reuters