According to the Kremlin, Putin then flew on to Mariupol in a helicopter. After his arrival, he informed himself about the situation during a tour and also talked to residents of the city, the Russian state agency TASS reported. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Chusnullin informed Putin about the status of the reconstruction work.
Russian state television showed the 70-year-old at the wheel of a car driving through the city at night. He visited a family in their house in a new housing estate built by the Russian military. The Interfax agency reported that Putin was also at a yacht club and the theater building.
Mariupol on the Sea of Azov had been bombarded and besieged by Russia since the beginning of the war in late February 2022. On April 21, Moscow announced the capture of the port city. Some 2,000 Ukrainian militants then holed up at the sprawling Azov Steelworks in Mariupol for almost a month before the government ordered them to surrender to the Russians to save their lives in May. According to Kiev, 90 percent of the city was destroyed and at least 20,000 people were killed.
Meeting with military leaders
Mariupol is part of Donetsk – one of four regions that Russia declared Russian territory in September. The government in Kiev and its allies are talking about an illegal annexation and a war of aggression by Russia. The leadership in Moscow describes the procedure as a special operation with the aim of destroying military capacities in the neighboring ex-Soviet republic and taking action against nationalists classified as dangerous.
Russian media also reported on Sunday that Putin had met with the top leaders of his military operation, including Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov. The encounter took place at the Rostov-on-Don command post in southern Russia, TASS reported.
Ninth anniversary of Crimea annexation
The reason for Putin’s visit to Crimea was the ninth anniversary of the internationally unrecognized Russian annexation of Crimea. State television broadcast images of the Kremlin chief, accompanied by local governor Mikhail Rasvozhayev, at the opening of an art school for children in Sevastopol.
It is the first visit by the Russian President to Crimea on the anniversary of the annexation since 2020. Since the beginning of the war of aggression he ordered against Ukraine, the Russian President has generally avoided areas close to the front. At the end of 2022, he tested the navigability of the Crimean Bridge, which had been badly damaged by an attack in the fall.
Arrest warrant against Putin
Meanwhile, traveling abroad could become more difficult and risky for Putin in the future. A day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin, this decision was expectedly welcomed by leading Western politicians. US President Joe Biden described the decision as a “very strong signal”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj spoke of a “historic decision”.
The court’s arrest warrant was issued on Friday for kidnapping thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia in the Ukraine war. According to the ICC, Putin is allegedly “personally responsible” for the “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children to Russian territory, calling it a war crime. An arrest warrant was also issued for the Russian President’s child rights commissioner, Maria Alexeyevna Lvowa-Belowa.
More risk when traveling in contracting states
Moscow has called the arrest warrant “meaningless” because it does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction. According to Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan, Putin could now be arrested if he travels to any of the ICC’s 123 contracting states. However, the court is dependent on their cooperation because it does not have its own police forces to implement the arrest warrant.
In the past, the countries have not always cooperated – especially when it came to an incumbent head of state. However, a visit by Putin could damage the image of such countries and could strain relations with Western countries. Whether the arrest warrant will actually have an effect and if so, which one, is currently still open.
New sanctions against Russia, Syria and Iran
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy announced new sanctions by his country against Russia and its allies Iran and Syria. “Ukrainian sanctions are part of the global pressure on Russia,” the 45-year-old said in his daily video address on Saturday. 400 people and companies are affected by the measure, said Zelenskyj.
In his video message, he blamed the passivity of the international community in Syria a few years ago, when Putin kept President Bashar al-Assad in power there with his bombs, for the start of the war in Ukraine. “The people of Syria have not received adequate international protection and this has left the Kremlin and its accomplices feeling impunity.”
“There is only one way to save life – it is necessary to expel the Russian army from Ukrainian soil. And we will do it,” Zelenskyy promised. In his weekly summary, he thought his country was on the right track. For example, Ukraine received a new armaments package with ammunition, artillery and combat aircraft from the West. In addition, there were larger rounds of negotiations with the United States about further armaments aid, the Ukrainian head of state said.