Vladimir Putin attends BRICS summit virtually to avoid war crimes arrest

Vladimir Putin has addressed a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies virtually to avoid an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for his arrest for war crimes.

The Russian president gave a 17-minute prerecorded speech as the bloc, named after its member states Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, opened its first in-person meeting since before the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa.

Mr Putin is wanted by the ICC over the abduction of children from Ukraine.

Ukraine war - latest: Putin hits out at West in major speech

The Russian leader criticised the impact of sanctions and indirectly accused the West by criticising the "trampling of all rules of free trade and economic life which we thought to be immovable before".

He said these have caused an "exacerbation of serious problems", in particular affecting the cereals industry.

It is worth noting Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its decision to pull out of the Black Sea grain deal have had a significant impact on the grains industry.

Mr Putin also gave an update on his offer of free grain for African countries, saying talks are almost finished and Russia remains and will be a reliable food supplier to Africa.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is representing Moscow in Johannesburg, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed Mr Putin would fully engage with the summit while participating remotely.

Local officials said the Russian president would "virtually" attend a welcome dinner hosted by South Africa on Tuesday. The agenda also lists him giving a speech via video link on Wednesday.

Read more:
Wagner Group chief shares first video address since aborted coup
Russian space agency boss blames decades of inactivity for moon crash

Xi Jinping also absent from summit

Chinese President Xi Jinping was also absent from the beginning of the summit, though he was in South Africa and held a bilateral morning meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

No reason was given for his absence, with Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao reading his speech.

Mr Xi, who has gradually resumed foreign travel after lifting his country's strict COVID-19 restrictions, joined Mr Ramaphosa to watch a ceremonial parade by soldiers at the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African government.

He made brief comments, saying China was ready for more cooperation with Africa's most advanced economy "to take our comprehensive strategic partnerships to new heights".

BRICS officials insist bloc is not taking anti-West position

BRICS officials have argued against suggestions the bloc is shifting towards an anti-West position under the influence of China and Russia, saying instead it is looking out for the interests of the Global South.

But the BRICS stance is at odds with its Western allies on a number of issues, including Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The European Union has called on Mr Xi, Mr Ramaphosa, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to use the three-day summit to condemn Russia and Mr Putin for the war in Ukraine - something that is unlikely to happen.

Instead BRICS has been a forum for Russia to express its anti-Western rhetoric, with Mr Lavrov using BRICS foreign minister meeting in June to lambast the West for its "hegemony" and use of "financial blackmail" to serve its "selfish interests".

A small protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine was held at a public park more than 3km (1.8 miles) from the summit on Tuesday.