Putin pays surprise visit to Mariupol in occupied Ukraine

Vladimir Putin paid a surprise visit to Mariupol, the Ukrainian city almost destroyed by his invading army last year, in an apparent show of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant accusing the Russian president of war crimes.

State television showed Putin arriving in the port city by helicopter in the early hours of Sunday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed the entire trip to Mariupol was planned ‘spontaneously’ and said Putin traveled through the frontline city without a full motorcade escort, according to the state news wire. RIA Novosti.

It was the president’s first trip to Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory, including four provinces that Moscow is trying to annex, since a full-scale invasion of the country began last year.

Putin has largely avoided traveling to the front line, mostly staying in Moscow, where even his senior officials have severely restricted access to him, and holding meetings online.

After visiting Mariupol, Putin made a rare public appearance in Rostov-na-Donu, southern Russia, where he heard a report from Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, the senior campaign commander. ‘Ukraine.

The trip to Mariupol, which is one of four provinces claimed by Russia – although it does not control all the territory – came a day after Putin made his first visit to Crimea, the peninsula he annexed to Ukraine in 2014.

The unannounced trip underscores Putin’s determination to continue the faltering invasion despite Russia’s huge losses, its economic isolation and the mandate of the ICC, which charges him with “individual criminal responsibility” for the forcible transfer of children from the occupied areas of Ukraine.

Kyiv says more than 16,000 children were abducted during the war, including more than 1,000 from Mariupol, which Russian forces virtually razed to the ground after a brutal three-month siege.

Putin, who has not commented on the charges, and children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, could be arrested if they travel to a country that is part of the ICC.

In state television footage, Putin was seen driving a black jeep through the streets of Mariupol accompanied by Marat Khusnullin, a senior Russian official, who showed him Russia’s efforts to rebuild the city.

He was taken to the Mariupol Philharmonic Concert Hall, where Russia originally planned to hold show trials last year charging Ukrainian prisoners with war crimes before dropping the idea.

He was also shown talking to people, according to state television, local residents who told the president they had ‘prayed for him’ and thanked Russia for rebuilding their apartments after the destruction of their homes.

Ukrainian officials have said that at least 22,000 of Mariupol’s pre-war civilian population, or half a million, died in the siege, and estimate the total toll could be several times higher.

But speaking on Sunday, Khusnullin said residents had returned to Mariupol in droves thanks to Russia’s reconstruction efforts. “People started coming back. When they saw that the reconstruction was underway, people started to actively come back,” he said.

He pledged to complete the reconstruction of the badly damaged city center by the end of the year. He claimed that the destruction of Mariupol was caused by the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces.

Standing beside him, Putin added: “They are Nazis. Honest people won’t do that.



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