Russian President Vladimir Putin has paid a surprise visit to Mariupol, it was reported on Sunday, the first he has visited the city since it was captured after a long siege at the start of Moscow’s offensive into Ukraine.
The trip comes after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin over Russia’s alleged deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children during the conflict.
Russia besieged Mariupol at the start of its offensive last year, destroying the Azovstal steelworks, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in the city.
According to the state news agency TASS on Sunday, Putin flew to Mariupol by helicopter on Saturday and took a tour of the city, sometimes driving a car.
He visited various sites and spoke to residents, and was presented with a report on the city’s rebuilding work.
Putin’s surprise visit to Crimea was his first to the peninsula since he sent troops to Ukraine
Pro-Kremlin activists held protests outside the US embassy in Moscow and other Western embassies on Saturday.
Putin’s stop in Mariupol comes after his surprise visit to Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation.
It is the first time Putin is known to have entered Ukrainian territory captured by his forces since the invasion last February.
Russian state television showed him visiting the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, accompanied by Moscow-appointed local governor Mikhail Razvozhayev.
Razvozhayev said on the Telegram messaging app that Putin was expected to take part in the opening of a children’s art school via video link.
‘But Vladimir Vladimirovich came in person. The same. behind the wheel Because on such a historic day, the president is always with Sevastopol and the people of Sevastopol, ”he said.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 following a referendum that was not recognized by kyiv or the international community.
Addressing the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said his goal was to recapture Crimea, though Moscow has refused to include it in possible peace talks.
Putin’s visit came after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him on Friday for the “deportation” of Ukrainian children.
Kiev says more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the start of the conflict in February 2022, many of them placed in institutions and foster homes.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told AFP Putin could now be arrested if he set foot in any of the court’s more than 120 member states.
Fighting is currently concentrated in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.
The 70-year-old Russian leader has not publicly commented on the order, but the Kremlin has ruled its validity “void” as Russia did not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction.
The Hague-based court’s decision came ahead of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow on Monday to sign deals billed as the start of a new era of relations.
China, a major ally of Russia, has tried to position itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, urging Moscow and kyiv to start negotiations.
But Western leaders have repeatedly criticized Beijing for failing to condemn Russia’s offensive, accusing it of providing Moscow with diplomatic cover for its campaign.
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the two sides agreed to extend a deal that has allowed Ukraine, a major grain exporter, to resume exports after its Black Sea ports were blocked by Russian warships. .
Grain exports of Ukraine
But there was disagreement over the terms.
Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said the deal had been extended by 120 days, but a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Moscow had agreed to a 60-day extension.
The agreement negotiated by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022 had allowed safe passage for exports and had already been extended by 120 days in November.
The fighting is now concentrated in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, particularly in the city of Bakhmut.
Russian strikes hit the nearby town of Kramatorsk on Saturday, killing two people and wounding 10, said regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, who accused Moscow of using cluster bombs in the attack.
AFP journalists in Kramatorsk heard around 10 near-simultaneous explosions just before 4:00 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) and saw smoke billowing over a park in the southern part of the city.
A woman died at the scene from her injuries, they saw.