The Russian leader’s trip was a show of defiance after a court issued a warrant for his arrest on war crimes charges.
KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied port city of Mariupolhis first trip to the territory of Ukraine, which Moscow illegally annexed in September.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin arrived in Mariupol late on Saturday after visiting the Crimea, not far southwest of Mariupol, to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula joining Ukraine. Mariupol became a global symbol of defiance after Ukrainian forces, outgunned and outnumbered, held out at the steel plant for nearly three months before Moscow finally took control of it in May.
The visits, in which Putin spoke to locals in Mariupol and visited an art school and children’s center in Crimea, were a show of defiance by the Russian leader two days after the trial. issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of war crimes.
Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which has deepened his international isolation, despite the unlikely possibility that he will stand trial any time soon. The Kremlin rejected the International Criminal Court’s move as “legally invalid.”
A trip was also waiting ahead a planned visit to Moscow of Chinese President Xi Jinping this week is expected to give Putin a major diplomatic boost in his confrontation with the West.
Putin flew to Mariupol by helicopter and then toured the “memorable places”, the concert hall and the coast of the city, according to Russian news. State-run Rossiya 24 channel on Sunday showed Putin talking to local residents outside a building that looked like a newly built apartment complex, and was shown around one of the apartments.
After the trip to Mariupol, Putin met with Russian military leaders and troops at a command post in Rostov-on-Don, a southern Russian city about 180 kilometers further east, and spoke with General Valery Gerasimov, who heads the Russian armed forces. operations in Ukraine. – said Piaskov.
Peskov told reporters that the trip was unannounced and that Putin intended to “get acquainted with the work of the (command) post in regular mode.”
Speaking to the state agency RIA on Sunday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnulin made it clear that Russia remained in Mariupol. According to him, the government hopes to complete the reconstruction of the blown-up city center by the end of the year.
“People started coming back. When they saw that reconstruction was underway, people began to actively return,” Husnullin told RIA.
When Moscow completely captured the city in May, about 100,000 people remained in it from a pre-war population of 450,000. Many were trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. The incessant bombing left rows upon rows of destroyed or hollowed out buildings.
The plight of Mariupol first came to international attention with a Russian aircraft struck the maternity hospital March 9 last year, less than two weeks after the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine. A week later, as reported, about 300 people died in the explosion of the theater, which served as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence obtained by the AP last spring suggests that the actual death toll may be closer to 600.
A small group of Ukrainian fighters lasted 83 days at the Azovstal steel plant in eastern Mariupol before the surrender, their stubborn defense held back Russian forces and became a symbol of Ukraine’s resilience in the face of Moscow’s aggression.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, which most of the world condemned as illegal, and last September officially declared four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine Russian territory after referendums that Kyiv and the West called a sham.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs on Friday accused Putin of personal responsibility for the abduction of children from Ukraine. UN investigators also stated that there is evidence of the forced transfer of “hundreds” of Ukrainian children to Russia. According to the Ukrainian government, more than 16,000 children have been deported to Russian-controlled territories or to Russia itself, many of them from Mariupol.
Peskov confirmed on Sunday that Moscow considers “any decisions of the International Criminal Court to be legally invalid.” While the move by the Interior Ministry was welcomed by Kiev on Friday, the chances of Putin standing trial are slim because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its citizens.