Putin visits Mariupol as part of surprise tour of occupied Ukraine

Putin visits Mariupol as part of surprise tour of occupied Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Mariupol, state media reported on Sunday, his first capture of the city after a protracted siege at the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

The visit comes after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin over the alleged deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children by Russia during the conflict.

Russia besieged Mariupol at the start of its invasion last year, destroying the Azovstal Steel Works, the Ukrainian military’s last holdout in the city.

Putin flew to Mariupol by helicopter on Saturday and occasionally drives around the city, state news agency TASS reported on Sunday.

He visited several sites and spoke with residents, and was presented with a report on the city’s reconstruction work.

Putin’s stop in Mariupol followed his surprise visit to Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation.

Russian state TV showed him visiting the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, accompanied by local Moscow-appointed governor Mikhail Razvozayev.

Razvozhayev said on the messaging app Telegram that Putin was expected to attend the opening of a children’s art school by video link.

“But Vladimir Vladimirovich came personally. Himself. 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 Kiev and the international community.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he aimed to take back Crimea, although Moscow has refused to include it in potential peace talks.

– ‘Void’ ICC warrants –
Putin’s visit comes after the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants on Friday over the “deportation” of Ukrainian children.

Kiev says more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the conflict began in February 2022, many of them held in institutions and foster homes.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told AFP that Putin could be arrested if he sets foot in any of the court’s more than 120 member states.

The 70-year-old Russian leader has not publicly commented on the warrant, but the Kremlin dismissed its validity as “void” because Russia did not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction.

The Hague-based court’s decision came ahead of a visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Moscow on Monday to sign an agreement billed as the beginning of a new era in ties.

China, a major Russian ally, has sought to position itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, urging Moscow and Kiev to open talks.

But Western leaders have repeatedly criticized Beijing for failing to condemn Russia’s invasion, accusing it of providing diplomatic cover to Moscow for its campaign.

– Grain deal extended –
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the two sides had agreed to extend a deal that allowed Ukraine, a major grain exporter, to resume exports after its Black Sea ports were closed. was blockaded by Russian warships.

But there was disagreement over the terms.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said the deal had been extended for 120 days, but a spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow had agreed to a 60-day extension.

A deal struck by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022 allowed for safe passage of exports, and was already extended for another 120 days in November.

Fighting is now concentrated in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, specifically the city of Bakhmut.

Regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko, who accused Moscow of using cluster bombs, said Russian strikes hit the nearby town of Kramatorsk on Saturday, killing two people and wounding 10.

AFP reporters in Kramatorsk heard about 10 explosions almost simultaneously and saw smoke rising above a park in the southern part of the city just before 4:00 pm local time (1400 GMT).

He saw that a woman died on the spot from her wounds.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and was auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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