Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a surprise trip to Mariupol, the Kremlin announced on Sunday, his first visit to territory captured from Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion began.
Just hours after Putin visited Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation, video released by the Kremlin showed him landing by helicopter in Mariupol, the port city Moscow captured after a long siege in the spring. last.
The visit sparked an angry reaction from Ukraine, with a presidential aide castigating his “cynicism” and “lack of remorse”.
The Russian leader drove around the city and was seen driving a car. The Kremlin said it visited a reconstructed musical theater and watched the presentation of a report on the reconstruction work.
“We are praying for you,” a resident told Putin, calling the town “a little piece of heaven,” according to footage released by Russian state television showing the visit took place at night.
Kremlinsman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the visit was “spontaneous”, adding that Putin’s movements around the city and his meeting with locals were not planned.
He added that the visit took place “very late” on Saturday and in the early hours of Sunday.
It was Putin’s first trip to the eastern Donbass region since he launched the invasion in February 2022, and comes nearly a year after Moscow announced the capture of Mariupol after a campaign that saw the destruction of the Azovstal steelworks, the last bastion of the Ukrainian forces. in the strategic port city.
“Lack of Remorse”
Mariupol was devastated after Moscow relentlessly bombarded the city on the shores of the Sea of Azov and subjected it to a brutal siege.
“The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime (…) the murderer of thousands of families of Mariupol came to admire the ruins of the city and (its) graves. Cynicism and lack of remorse”, declared on Twitter l presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Twitter that Putin visited the city at night “as befits a thief”.
“He witnessed the ‘reconstruction of the city’… at night. Probably not to see the city, killed by its ‘liberation’, in the light of day,” the exiled Mariupol city council said on its Telegram account.
The visit comes ahead of a trip to Moscow this week by Chinese President Xi Jinping, widely seen as a diplomatic coup for Putin.
Beijing, a strategic ally of Moscow, has touted the trip as a “peace visit” as it seeks to mediate in the Ukraine conflict.
China has sought to position itself as a neutral party, urging Moscow and Kyiv to open negotiations.
But Western leaders have repeatedly criticized Beijing for failing to condemn Russia’s offensive, accusing it of providing Moscow with diplomatic cover for its campaign.
Putin also met with army chiefs, including Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, near the border with Ukraine. , the Kremlin said.
He also made a surprise visit to Crimea on Saturday, with Russian state television showing him visiting the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, accompanied by Moscow-appointed local governor Mikhail Razvozhayev.
ICC warrant ‘cancelled’
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 following a referendum not recognized by Kyiv and the international community.
The weekend visits came after the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, issued an arrest warrant for Putin for Russia’s alleged deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children during the conflict.
kyiv says more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to 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 now faces arrest if he sets foot in any of the court’s more than 120 member states.
The 70-year-old Russian leader has not publicly commented on the warrant but the Kremlin has dismissed its validity as ‘void’ since Russia did not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Moscow and Kyiv had agreed to extend a deal that allows Ukraine, a major grain exporter, to resume exports after its Black Sea ports were blocked. by Russian warships.
However, there is still disagreement over the terms, with Ukraine claiming the deal has been extended for 120 days and Russia saying it’s been extended for 60 days.
The agreement negotiated by Turkey and the United Nations in July had already been extended by 120 days in November.