Vladimir Putin visited Mariupol, a Ukrainian city devastated by bombardments, his first visit to a conquered zone since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the Kremlin reported on Sunday, after the issuance of an arrest warrant. international against the Russian president.
The Russian leader went to Mariupol by helicopter and toured the city, driving a car, the Kremlin press service said on Sunday, quoted by Russian news agencies.
He spoke with residents, visited places of interest and was presented with a report on the reconstruction works of this devastated city, according to the same source.
This is his first trip to this Ukrainian port city besieged for months by Russian forces before falling in May 2022.
This surprise visit to Mariupol is above all the first trip of the master of the Kremlin to the Donbass, in the conquered zone, 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 in Rostov, Russia, with Russian military officials, including Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
He had previously traveled to Crimea on Saturday for the 9th anniversary of the annexation of this Ukrainian peninsula by Russia, also targeted by international sanctions for this reason. It was his first visit to Crimea since 2021.
Vladimir Putin has been targeted since Friday by an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which accuses him of a war crime of “illegal deportation” of Ukrainian children.
The Court, which sits in The Hague, also tried to verify whether the bombing and siege of Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, could constitute a crime against humanity. She concluded that she lacked elements to reach such a conclusion, having not had access to the Donetsk region, where Mariupol is located.
The Kremlin has ruled “null and void” the ICC arrest warrant, which Moscow does not recognize as having jurisdiction.
More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the invasion on February 24, 2022, according to kyiv, and many have been placed in institutions and foster homes.
– Crimea before –
Arrived in Sevastopol, home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, Mr. Putin notably attended on Saturday the inauguration ceremony of a school of arts for children in the company of the local governor, Mikhail Razvojayev, according to the images broadcast by the public television channel Rossia-1.
This city being located only about 240 km from Kherson, a southern Ukrainian city retaken by the army of Kiev in November after the withdrawal of the Russian forces, this trip of Mr. Putin was also the first carried out in a place so close to the front line.
“Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin knows how to surprise. In the good sense of the word”, wrote on Telegram Mr. Razvojayev.
“But Vladimir Vladimirovich came in person. Himself. Driving. Because on a historic day like today, he is always with Sevastopol and its people,” said Mikhail Razvojayev.
“Our country has an incredible leader!” he enthused.
Russia annexed Crimea on March 18, 2014, following a referendum not recognized by kyiv and the international community.
– “New era” with China
If Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky affirmed in January that he intended to take back Crimea – “our land” – by arms, Moscow continues to hammer home that “Crimea is Russian”, refusing to make it the object of possible peace negotiations.
The international arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin was issued the day Moscow and Beijing unveiled Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia next week, meant to usher in a ‘new era’ in relations between the two allies .
This visit will take place from March 20 to 22, a little over a year after the launch of the Russian offensive in Ukraine which led the Kremlin to reorient itself towards China, amid tensions with the West which supports the ‘Ukraine.
Last month, China sought to establish itself as a mediator by issuing a document urging Moscow and kyiv to hold peace talks.