Ukraine: Putin visits devastated Mariupol, first visit to conquered territory

Vladimir Putin visited Mariupol, a Ukrainian city devastated by bombings, his first visit to a conquered territory since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the Kremlin reported on Sunday after issuing an arrest warrant against the Russian president.

The Kremlin press service quoted Russian news agencies as saying on Sunday that the Russian leader flew to Mariupol by helicopter and toured the city by car.

He spoke with residents, visited places of interest and, according to the same source, was presented with a report on the reconstruction works of the devastated city.

This is his first visit to the Ukrainian port city, which was besieged by Russian forces for months before its fall in May 2022.

The surprise visit to Mariupol comes on top of the first trip by the Kremlin’s master to the Donbass to the conquered territory since the start of the Russian offensive on February 24, 2022, which earned Moscow a series of severe international sanctions.

According to the Kremlin, before going to Mariupol, Putin also held a meeting with Russian military officials in Rostov, Russia, including Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

He earlier traveled to Crimea on Saturday for the 9th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, which has also been targeted by international sanctions for that reason. This was his first visit to Crimea after 2021.

Vladimir Putin has been the target of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) since Friday, accusing him of the war crime of “illegal deportation” of Ukrainian children.

A Russian soldier in Mariupol, April 12, 2022 (AFP/Archive – Alexander Nemenov)

The Court, based in The Hague, also attempted to verify whether the bombing and siege of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine could constitute a crime against humanity. He concluded that he lacked the elements to reach such a conclusion, having no access to the Donetsk region, where Mariupol is located.

The Kremlin has termed the ICC arrest warrant, which Moscow does not recognize jurisdiction, as “invalid and void”.

According to Kiev, more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the invasion on February 24, 2022, and many more are held in institutions and foster homes.

– Crimea first –

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Governor Mikhail Razvoyev in Sevastopol, Crimea, on April 18, 2023 (Russian Presidential Press Office/AFP - Handout)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Governor Mikhail Razvoyev in Sevastopol, Crimea, on April 18, 2023 (Russian Presidential Press Office/AFP – Handout)

Arriving in Sevastopol, home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, Mr Putin on Saturday attended the opening ceremony of a school of arts specially designed for children in the company of local governor Mikhail Razvozyev. Public television channel Rossiya-1.

The city is located about 240 km from Kherson, a southern Ukrainian city retaken by Kiev’s forces in November after Russian troops withdrew, making Mr Putin’s first visit to a place so close to the front. But it was done. Line.

“Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin knows how to surprise. In the good sense of the word,” Razvozyev wrote on Telegram.

“But Vladimir Vladimirovich came personally. Himself. At the wheel. Because on a historic day like today, he is always with Sevastopol and its people,” said Mikhail Razvozyev.

“Our country has an incredible leader!” he enthused.

Russia annexed Crimea on 18 March 2014 following a referendum recognized by Kiev and the international community.

– “New Era” with China

If Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in January that he intended to take back Crimea – “our land” – by arms, Moscow has continued to insist at home that “Crimea is Russian”, making it the subject of potential peace talks. refusing to make.

An international arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin was issued on a day Moscow and Beijing unveiled Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia next week aimed at ushering in a ‘new era’ in ties between the two allies.

The visit will take place from March 20 to 22, more than a year after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that prompted the Kremlin to reorient itself toward China, amid tensions with the West that Supports ‘Ukraine’.

Last month, China sought to establish itself as a mediator by issuing a document urging Moscow and Kiev to hold peace talks.

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