Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise trip to Mariupol, the Kremlin said Sunday, his first visit to the territory captured from Ukraine since Moscow’s offensive began.
Just hours after Putin visited Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the annexation of the peninsula, video shared by the Kremlin showed him landing by helicopter in Mariupol, a port city captured by Moscow after a long siege last spring.
The visit sparked an angry reaction in Ukraine, with a presidential aide blasting its “cynicism” and “lack of remorse”.
The Russian leader visited the city and was seen driving a car. According to the Kremlin, he visited the reconstructed music theater and watched the presentation of the report on the reconstruction work.
“We are praying for you,” one resident told Putin, calling the town a “little piece of paradise,” according to images broadcast by Russian state television showing the visit took place at night.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the visit was “spontaneous,” adding that Putin’s movements in the city and his meetings with locals were not planned.
He added that the visit took place “very late” on Saturday and early on Sunday.
It was Putin’s first trip to the eastern Donbas region since he launched the offensive in February 2022, and comes almost a year after Moscow announced the capture of Mariupol following a campaign that destroyed the Azovstal steel plant, the last holdout for Ukrainian forces. in a strategic port city.
“Lack of Remorse”
Mariupol was destroyed after Moscow relentlessly bombarded the city on the Sea of Azov and came under brutal siege.
“The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime… the murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and (its) graves. Cynicism and lack of remorse,” Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said on Twitter.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Twitter that Putin visited the city at night “fit for a thief.”
“He watched the ‘reconstruction of the city’… at night. Probably so he wouldn’t see the city killed by his ‘liberation’ in the light of day,” the exiled Mariupol city councilor said on his Telegram account.
The visit comes ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Moscow this week, widely seen as Putin’s diplomatic coup.
Beijing, a strategic ally of Moscow, has touted the trip as a “visit for peace” as it seeks to mediate the conflict in Ukraine.
China has tried to position itself as a neutral party and urged Moscow and Kiev to start negotiations.
However, Western leaders have repeatedly criticized Beijing for its lack of condemnation Russia’s attack, accusing Moscow of providing diplomatic cover for its campaign.
According to the Kremlin, Putin also met with army chiefs, including General Valery Gerasimov, in southern Russia’s Rostov-on-Don near the Ukrainian border.
He also made a surprise visit to Crimea on Saturday, when Russian state television showed him visiting the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol accompanied by the local Moscow-appointed governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev.
Void ICC authorization
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after a referendum that was not recognized by Kyiv and the international community.
The weekend visits came after the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin. Russia allegedly deported thousands of Ukrainian children during the conflict.
According to Kyiv, more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported Russia since the beginning of the conflict, many of them have been placed in institutions and foster homes.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told AFP that Putin is now eligible for arrest if he appears in one of the court’s more than 120 member states.
The 70-year-old Russian leader has not commented publicly on the order, but the Kremlin has since dismissed its validity as “empty”. Russia did not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that Moscow and Kiev had agreed to extend a deal allowing Ukraine, a major grain exporter, to resume exports after Russian warships blocked its Black Sea ports.
However, there is still disagreement over the terms, as Ukraine said the agreement has been extended by 120 days and Russia said it was extended by 60 days.
The agreement brokered by Turkey and the UN in July was already extended by 120 days in November.