Vladimir Putin has made a shock go to to Mariupol, the Ukrainian metropolis all however destroyed by his invading military final yr, in an obvious present of defiance after the Worldwide Legal Courtroom issued an arrest warrant accusing the Russian president of battle crimes.
State tv confirmed Putin arriving on the port metropolis by helicopter within the early hours of Sunday.
It’s his first journey to Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, together with 4 provinces Moscow is trying to annex, for the reason that full-scale invasion of the nation started final yr.
Putin has largely prevented visiting the frontline, remaining principally in Moscow, the place even his high officers’ entry to him is extremely restricted, and holding conferences on-line.
After visiting Mariupol, Putin made a uncommon public look in Rostov-na-Donu in southern Russia, the place he heard a report from chief of the final workers Valery Gerasimov, the primary commander of the Ukraine marketing campaign.
The journey to Mariupol, a part of 4 provinces claimed by Russia — though it doesn’t management the entire territory — got here a day after Putin made his first go to to Crimea, the peninsula he annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The unannounced journey underscores Putin’s dedication to press on with the faltering invasion regardless of Russia’s big casualties, financial isolation, and the ICC warrant, which accuses him of “particular person legal accountability” for the pressured switch of kids from occupied areas of Ukraine.
Kyiv says greater than 16,000 youngsters have been kidnapped throughout the battle, together with greater than 1,000 from Mariupol, which Russian forces just about razed to the bottom after a brutal three-month siege.
Putin, who has not commented on the costs, and youngsters’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, might face arrest in the event that they journey to any nation that’s a part of the ICC.
Within the state tv footage, Putin was seen driving a black jeep by means of the streets of Mariupol accompanied by Marat Khusnullin, a high Russian official, who confirmed him Russia’s efforts to rebuild the town.
He was taken to Mariupol’s philharmonic live performance corridor, the place Russia initially deliberate to carry present trials final yr accusing Ukrainian prisoners of battle crimes earlier than scrapping the concept.
He was additionally proven chatting with individuals state TV mentioned had been native residents who instructed the president that they had been “praying for him” and thanked Russia for rebuilding their flats after their properties had been destroyed.
Ukrainian officers have mentioned a minimum of 22,000 of Mariupol’s prewar civilian inhabitants of half 1,000,000 died within the siege, and estimate that the complete toll might be many instances increased.
However talking on Sunday, Khusnullin mentioned residents had been flocking again to Mariupol because of Russia’s reconstruction efforts. “Folks have began to return again. Once they noticed that reconstruction is underneath approach, individuals began actively returning,” he mentioned.
He vowed to complete rebuilding the closely broken metropolis centre by the tip of the yr. He claimed that the destruction in Mariupol had been attributable to retreating Ukrainian forces.
Standing by his aspect, Putin added: “They’re Nazis. Respectable individuals gained’t try this.”