Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, paid a visit to Mariupol, an occupied port city, in a show of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him on war crimes charges.
This was Putin’s first visit to Ukrainian territory that Moscow had illegally annexed in September.
Putin visited Crimea, southwest of Mariupol, late on Saturday to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the takeover of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine, according to a statement from the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
At Sevastopol, Crimea, he visited an art school and a children’s center and conversed with locals in Mariupol.
When outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian soldiers managed to hold out in a nearby steel mill for almost three months before Moscow finally took over the city in May, Mariupol became a symbol of resistance.
Soviet shelling reduced a sizable portion of the city to ruins.
Putin hasn’t responded to the arrest order, which increased his worldwide isolation despite the remoteness of his eventual trial. The Kremlin has rejected the action, calling it “legally null and void” since it does not accept the ICC’s authority.
The unexpected journey coincides with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anticipated visit to Moscow this week, which is expected to give Putin a significant diplomatic boost as he faces off against the West.
Any call for a cease-fire in Ukraine that came out of the Putin-Xi meeting, according to John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, would be unacceptable to the United States because it would only “ratify Russia’s conquest to date” and give Moscow “time to refit, retrain, re-man and try to plan for a renewed offensive.”
According to Russian press accounts, Putin flew into Mariupol and used a personal vehicle to see the “memorial sites,” concert theater, and coastline.
On Sunday, Putin was seen conversing with neighbors outside of what appeared to be a recently constructed residential complex and being shown through one of the units on the state-run Rossiya 24 channel.
Following his visit to Mariupol, Putin met with members of the Russian military at a command post in Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia located 180 kilometers (about 112 miles) to the east.
He also met with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who oversees the Russian military’s operations in Ukraine. Peskov declared.
According to Peskov, Putin planned to “inspect the activities of the (command) post in its normal manner of operation” during the unannounced visit.
Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin made it plain in a statement to the official RIA-Novosti agency that Russia intended to remain in Mariupol.
He stated that by the end of the year, the government intended to have finished reconstructing its destroyed downtown.
Putin drives around Mariupol during surprise visit to Donbass
Details: https://t.co/CorvWuqYUb pic.twitter.com/i96mkeb6zU
— RT (@RT_com) March 19, 2023