Putin makes his first trip to an occupied Ukrainian city with a stop in Mariupol
In a show of defiance just a day after an international court called for his arrest on war crimes charges, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first visit to a Ukrainian town captured during its neighbor’s invasion on Saturday night. Russia almost 13 months ago.
According to Russian reports, Mr Putin followed a stopover in Crimea, the peninsula he forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014, with a surprise visit to Mariupol, an industrial hub on the country’s Black Sea coast. which was the site of one of the most memorable battles of the war.
Russian forces finally took control of the city after a long siege in May 2022, as outnumbered Ukrainian defenders held out in the city’s massive Azovstal steel complex for more than three months.
The defense greatly boosted the morale of the Ukrainian forces, and commanders in Kiev said that the time and resources Russia had to devote to capturing the city had given them respite to organize the defense of other areas.
Mariupol was also the site of some of the most gruesome Russian strikes against civilian targets during the war, when a theater full of children and a maternity hospital were hit by Russian missiles, killing hundreds last spring.
Russian media said Putin drove his own car through the occupied city late Saturday night, meeting locals and visiting an art school and youth center, the Associated Press reported.
In carefully staged footage broadcast on Russian TV, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin is seen briefing Mr Putin and claiming that city services and port operations are returning to normal under control Russian.
“People have started to return actively, with population growth recorded,” Khusnullin said at one point, according to the official Tass news service.
Mr Putin visited the Russian military command center in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday for a briefing with General Valery Gerasimov, the latest commander of what the Kremlin calls Ukraine’s “special military operation”, and his collaborators.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made several trips to the front lines, and Ukrainians have repeatedly taunted the Russian leader for not making the trip himself.
The visit is part of a momentous week for the 70-year-old Russian leader, keen to retain popular support for an invasion that has so far achieved almost none of its main goals.
On Friday, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges, saying he oversaw the forcible abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children.
And Mr Putin is due to return to the Kremlin on Monday for a high-stakes three-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader’s first trip to Russia since the war in Ukraine began in February 2022.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.