Putin visits occupied Mariupol, staking declare to invaded Ukrainian lands


Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a shock go to Saturday night to occupied Mariupol, the jap Ukrainian metropolis that Russia seized in Might after largely destroying it throughout a brutal months-long siege.

The go to was a symbolic show of bravado by Putin, only a day after the Worldwide Legal Court docket issued a warrant for his arrest over alleged struggle crimes and proper earlier than a state go to to Russia by Chinese language President Xi Jinping, which begins Monday.

However at the same time as Putin personally staked his declare to occupied Ukrainian territory, worldwide condemnation of him grew louder.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a shock go to to Ukraine’s Mariupol as seen in video launched by state media on March 19. (Video: Russian Pool through Reuters)

Germany’s justice minister, Marco Buschmann, instructed the Bild newspaper that German authorities would arrest Putin, in accordance with the warrant, if he set foot of their nation. President Biden on Saturday additionally backed the court docket’s choice, saying, “it’s justified.”

Officers in Russia, which, like the US, doesn’t acknowledge the worldwide court docket’s jurisdiction, described the warrant as illegal. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov known as it “outrageous and unacceptable” but in addition “null and void” from a authorized perspective.

The go to to Mariupol was Putin’s first recognized journey to occupied Ukrainian territory because the begin of his invasion in February final yr. Since then, the West estimates some 200,000 Russian troopers have been killed or wounded in Ukraine.

Highlighting the safety issues, the Kremlin introduced the go to solely on Sunday morning after Putin had left. Ukraine’s protection ministry accused Putin of visiting at night time “like a thief.”

The Russian president was flown into Mariupol on a helicopter. The town, on the Azov Sea, sits about 60 miles south of energetic combating. It’s a part of the Donetsk area, considered one of 4 Ukrainian provinces, together with Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, that Russia claims to have annexed, in violation of worldwide regulation.

Video launched by the Kremlin confirmed Putin driving a automobile via a number of neighborhoods to examine “the coastline, the theater building, and memorable places” and reconstruction work within the metropolis, which was badly broken by airstrikes, in accordance with a authorities readout posted Sunday.

Different movies carried on Russian state media early Sunday confirmed Putin sitting in an empty corridor of a rebuilt philharmonic, in addition to speaking to a small group of residents in nighttime darkness outdoors a newly constructed residential complicated within the Nevsky district, a mission extensively utilized by Russian propagandists to reward Moscow’s swift rebuilding of town.

“This is a little island of paradise here,” one lady stated within the video earlier than Putin toured an residence within the constructing.

In feedback on Mariupol message boards on the favored Telegram messaging app, some residents complained that nobody confirmed Putin “the empty pits that are the foundations of destroyed houses.”

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the ousted Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, wrote on Telegram that “Putin or one of his doubles” had visited Mariupol in a single day. Andryushchenko referred to Putin as a “scarecrow,” saying he visited at night time most likely to cover the dimensions of destruction Russian forces had induced within the metropolis. At night time, he wrote, “the true beauty of the Russian occupation design is hidden by darkness.”

Different Ukrainian officers additionally advised, with out offering proof, that Putin had not likely visited however despatched a physique double.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, related the go to and the arrest warrant for struggle crimes. “The criminal always returns to the crime scene,” Podolyak tweeted. “The murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city & graves. Cynicism & lack of remorse.”

ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes in Ukraine

The Russian president’s trip was part of a two-day tour across occupied territories.

Earlier on Saturday, Putin visited Crimea, which Russia invaded and illegally annexed in 2014, to mark the ninth anniversary of Moscow’s absorption of the Ukrainian peninsula. The Kremlin also said Putin had visited the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don for a meeting with top military commanders at the regional Defense Ministry headquarters.

Putin’s trip seemed designed to make a muscular display of Russia’s claims to invaded Ukrainian territory and to showcase tangible gains in a war that has largely stalled after a string of Russian military defeats in the fall. In addition to the estimated 200,000 Russian fighters killed or wounded, Ukrainian military casualties are estimated at up to 120,000, and according to the United Nations, more than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed.

The visit to Mariupol also projected an image of Putin as defiant and unbowed after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for his arrest, saying he was personally responsible for the criminal abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children taken across the Russian border.

At least 1,000 such children were relocated to Russia from Mariupol, according to Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s rights ombudswoman. The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Lvova-Belova on Friday, accusing her of the same crimes as Putin.

War forces thousands of disabled Ukrainians into institutions

To solidify Russia’s control over the occupied territories, Moscow has pushed to bring the population into its legal orbit by issuing Russian passports and making it easy to sign up for modest government benefits. Russia has sought to present the annexation of the four regions as a fait accompli, and the Russian constitution was even rewritten to incorporate them.

After Putin’s visit, Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, tried to portray the president as focused on easing the transition for residents.

“In conversation with the president, residents of Mariupol raised questions related to the delay in paying salaries, obtaining Russian citizenship, and issuing Russian passports,” Peskov instructed the state-controlled information company Tass. “The president will give instructions to deal with the situation.”

Mariupol became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance during weeks of relentless Russian attacks, including the bombing of a drama theater, which had been used as a shelter by hundreds of people.

It is also one of the few occupied regional hubs Moscow still firmly controls, after its troops were forced to retreat from most of the northeastern Kharkiv region and from Kherson city in the south during Ukrainian counteroffensives in the fall.

The front line has barely moved in the winter months, with the two sides engaged in a war of attrition that has cost many lives and depleted ammunition supplies.

Ukrainian forces, emboldened by new weapons supplies from its Western allies, are believed to be gearing up for an offensive in the spring, with Zelensky promising to reclaim all Russian-occupied areas, including Crimea.

Ukraine in need of expert troops and munitions as losses, pessimism develop

Putin has shown no sign that he is willing to negotiate with Kyiv and instead has sought to normalize the war in recent public speeches, apparently seeking to prepare Russians for a long fight.

Following the invasion, the West has largely shunned Moscow, imposing export controls and a vast array of economic sanctions in hopes of undermining Putin’s war machine.

But on Monday, the arrival of Xi is set to provide Beijing’s strongest show of support since the war started. China insists it is neutral in the conflict and has sought to portray itself as a potential mediator.

For Putin, Xi’s visit bolsters the Kremlin’s fundamental talking point that active support for Ukraine is limited to Western capitals, while Russia actively cultivates alliances elsewhere.

Siobhán O’Grady, David L. Stern and Kamila Hrabchuk in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *