Ukraine.- Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the port city of Mariupol, his first trip to the Ukrainian territory that Moscow illegally annexed in September, and in a show of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant in against him for war crimes.
Putin arrived in Mariupol on Saturday night after visiting Crimea, to mark nine years since Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday. Putin was seen chatting with Mariupol residents and visiting an art school and children’s center in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Mariupol became a global symbol of resistance after outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian forces held out at a steel plant there for nearly three months before Moscow finally captured it in May. Much of the city was reduced to rubble by Russian bombing.
Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which deepened his international isolation despite the improbability of his facing trial any time soon. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the authority of the ICC, has rejected its measure as “legally null and void”. He made the trip ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Moscow this week. The trip would give Putin a major diplomatic boost in his confrontation with the West.
Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then drove himself to tour “monumental places” in the city, the concert hall and the coast, according to Russian reports, which did not specify when the trip took place. The state channel Rossiya 24 showed pictures of Putin chatting with locals outside what appeared to be a newly built residential complex, and others showing him one of the apartments.
After his trip to Mariupol, Putin met military commanders and troops at a command post in Rostov-on-Don, a southern Russian city some 180 kilometers further east, according to Russian state media.
The Rossiya 24 channel showed footage on Sunday showing Moscow’s top official in charge of the war in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov, receiving Putin and leading him to a room where Gerasimov’s second-in-command and a group of men were waiting. in uniform. It was not possible to independently verify the circumstances in which the video was recorded.
The spokesman Peskov told reporters on Sunday that the trip had not been announced in advance and that Putin intended to “inspect the work of the (command) post in its ordinary operational mode.”
Speaking to Russia’s state-run RIA news agency on Sunday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnulin made it clear that Russia was in Mariupol to stay. The government hopes to finish rebuilding the devastated city center by the end of the year, he said.
“People have started to come back. When they saw that the reconstruction is going on, people started to come back,” Khusnulin told RIA.
It is estimated that when Moscow completely took the city in May some 100,000 of the 450,000 pre-war inhabitants remained. Many had been trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. The constant shelling left row after row of buildings collapsed or damaged.
The situation in Mariupol made international headlines with a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital on March 9 last year, less than two weeks after Russian troops entered Ukraine. A week later, some 300 people were reportedly killed in the attack on a theater that served as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence gathered by The Associated Press last spring suggested the true death toll may be closer to 600 people.
A small group of Ukrainian fighters held out for 83 days at the sprawling Azovstal steel works east of Mariupol before surrendering. His persistent defense held back Russian forces and became a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Russian aggression.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world dismissed as illegal, and last September officially declared four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine as Russian territory after referendums that Kiev and the West dismissed as farcical. .
The ICC charged Putin on Friday with personal responsibility for the abduction of Ukrainian children. United Nations investigators also said there was evidence of the forcible transfer of “hundreds” of Ukrainian children to Russia. According to Ukrainian government figures, some 16,000 children have been deported to territories controlled by Russia or Russia itself, many of them from Mariupol.
Peskov reiterated on Sunday that Moscow considers “any decision of the International Criminal Court null and void.” Although the ICC announcement on Friday was welcomed by kyiv, Putin’s chances of being tried are slim because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its citizens.