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Vladimir Putin’s opening address at an international summit yesterday did not go as planned when the Russian president’s pre-recorded message was altered to dramatically change his voice.

A 30-second clip shared by members of the Kremlin press pool and other journalists present showed how Putin’s speech at the BRICS Business Forum in South Africa had been manipulated, lowering his voice to a laughable extent.

‘Putin addresses the Business Forum BRICS by video link. But not with his own voice,’ the Kremlin journalists wrote. 

The address in its original form, in which the president’s voice remains normal, was published on the Russian government’s website.

It is unclear whether the speech had been doctored by someone at the summit seeking to undermine the leader, or whether the garbled speech was simply the result of a technical glitch.

Putin had to join the summit of BRICS constituent nations Brazil, India, China and South Africa remotely to avoid arrest. 

The Russian president had a warrant issued for him in March by the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing him of war crimes in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the BRICS group of emerging economies three-day summit in Johannesburg, South Africa via videoconference from Moscow

Members of the media watch Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s address via video link, during the 2023 BRICS Summit in Johannesburg on Wednesday August 23 

Putin was forced to join the summit of BRICS constituent nations Brazil, India, China and South Africa remotely in order to avoid arrest

Today, Putin delivered another video speech imploring BRICS leaders to defend Russia’s war in Ukraine while praising the group as a counterbalance to US global dominance.

He repeated the Kremlin narrative that his invasion, condemned by Ukraine and the West as an imperialist land grab, was a forced response to hostile actions of Kyiv and Washington. 

‘Our actions in Ukraine are dictated by only one thing – to end the war that was unleashed by the West and its satellites against the people who live in the Donbas,’ he said, referring to the east of Ukraine where Russian proxies have been fighting the Ukrainian army since 2014.

‘I want to note that it was the desire to maintain their hegemony in the world, the desire of some countries to maintain this hegemony that led to the severe crisis in Ukraine.’

Putin was speaking to a forum of countries that have refrained from condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The BRICS has taken on added importance for Moscow as it seeks to blunt Western sanctions by boosting trade with Asia, Africa and Latin America.

From left: Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, China’s President Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov raise their arms as they pose for a photograph at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg on August 23, 2023

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov looks at notes at event in Johannesburg on August 23

Activists display signs in support of Ukraine during a protest near the venue where the BRICS Summit is taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 August 2023

Russia has repeatedly said it is open to talks to end the 18-month war, but only if they take account of the ‘new realities’ created by its forces who control nearly a fifth of Ukraine. Ukraine demands the restoration of all its territory and the removal of Russian troops.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who in June presented an African peace plan separately to Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in response to Putin’s speech that BRICS members would continue to support efforts to bring the conflict to an end.

Strengthening BRICS forms part of Russia’s vision of undermining US dominance and building what Putin, in his speech, called ‘a multipolar world order’.

Russia has condemned the ICC’s issuing of an arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes, rejecting the accusation as outrageous. The Kremlin said the move has no legal meaning because Russia is not an ICC member. 

South Africa is a member, however, meaning its security forces would have been obliged to arrest Putin had he travelled to the meeting in person.

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