Vladimir Putin has been threatened with arrest in South Africa ahead of a controversial visit expected later this year
The premier of the Democratic Alliance-governed Western Cape province, which includes Cape Town, said he would order local police to seize the Russian leader.
Alan Winde attacked the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government for pushing ahead to welcome the Russian leader despite the International Criminal Court (ICC) ordering his arrest for the deportation of Ukrainian children.
Ukraine on Friday meanwhile said it was wrapping up preparations for its long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia and its forces were largely ready.
Oleskii Reznikov, the defence minister, said: “As soon as there is God’s will, the weather and a decision by commanders, we will do it.”
The country faced its heaviest night of Russian missile and drone strikes for almost two months, with at least 19 killed.
South Africa is due to welcome the leaders of Russia, China and other members of the Brics bloc of nations for a summit in August.
Mr Winde said pressing ahead with the invitation would be “unacceptable and deplorable”.
He said: “Putin has consistently and violently eroded the freedoms of the Ukrainian people and those in his own country who dare take a principled stand against his brutal actions.”
The ICC warrant obliges South Africa to arrest Putin if he visits the country, but the ANC has a long-standing friendship with Moscow.
Fikile Mbalula, the secretary-general of the ANC, said earlier this week that as far as the party was concerned, Putin “can come here any time”.
The country has also defied an ICC warrant in the past, refusing to arrest former Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2015.
Mr Winde said locally funded police in the Western Cape province would act if the government did not order national police to act.
ANC supporters mocked Mr Winde for over-reaching his powers and questioned if he had the legal authority or resources to arrest a world leader.
Pretoria has not issued a detailed itinerary for the summit, but has said it will be held in the Gauteng province, so it is unclear if attendees would also be visiting the Western Cape.
Mr Winde said he would have police ready at the airport and would liaise with Interpol and the ICC if necessary to make the arrest.
Putin’s allies have previously said any attempt to arrest the Russian leader would be considered an act of war.
The Kremlin says the ICC arrest warrant for Putin’s alleged role in the deportation of hundreds of Ukrainian children is a partisan decision.
Yet Putin’s potential presence at the summit has created an intense diplomatic quandary for South Africa’s president.
Pretoria has said it refuses to take sides in the Ukraine war and the country has long accused the ICC of double standards. Some of the ANC old guard retain a fondness for Moscow because of Soviet support during their struggle against apartheid.
Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this week appeared to say the country would leave the court, only for the ANC to then roll back his comments.
London and Washington have been frustrated by Mr Ramaphosa’s warmth towards Russia and China, which has included staging joint naval manoeuvres earlier this year.
The ANC has this week sent a delegation to Washington amid concerns the US may respond by ejecting South Africa from a trade deal.
Pretoria is looking for a fudge to avoid a confrontation, diplomatic sources have suggested
Last week a leading Ukrainian activist said it would be better for South Africa if Putin dialled in to the summit.
Oleksandra Romantsova, executive director of Ukraine’s Centre for Civil Liberties, which jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said: “If Putin comes here … they [South Africa] need to arrest him. It’s a complicated political situation. So better that Putin join via Zoom.”