Putin visits Mariupol as part of surprise tour in occupied Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Mariupol, his first since a long siege at the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, state media reported on Sunday the city.

The trip came after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin over Russia’s alleged deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children during the conflict.

Last year, Russia surrounded Mariupol at the start of its offensive, destroying the Azovstal steel plant, the last Ukrainian army stronghold in the city.

Putin flew to Mariupol by helicopter on Saturday and toured the city, sometimes driving, state news agency TASS reported on Sunday.

He visited several sites and spoke with residents, and was given a report on the city’s rebuilding efforts.

Putin stopped in Mariupol after a surprise visit to Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation.

Russian state television showed footage of his visit to the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, accompanied by the local Moscow-appointed governor Mikhail Razvozayev.

Razvozaev said on the messaging app Telegram that Putin was expected to attend the opening of the children’s art school via video link.

“But Vladimir Vladimirovich came in person. Himself. Behind the wheel. Because on such a historic day, the president is always with Sevastopol and the people of Sevastopol together,” he said.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after a referendum not recognized by Kiev and the international community.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he aimed to take back Crimea, despite Moscow’s refusal to include it in possible peace talks.

– “Void” ICC Warrant –
Putin’s visit comes after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him on Friday for “deporting” Ukrainian children.

Kiev says more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the conflict broke out in February 2022, many of them placed in institutions and foster families.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told AFP that Putin was now obliged to be arrested if he set foot in any of the court’s more than 120 member states.

The 70-year-old Russian leader has yet to comment publicly on the arrest warrant, but the Kremlin considers its validity “ineffective” because Russia does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction.

The Hague court’s decision was signed ahead of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow on Monday in a deal that was touted as ushering in a new era in relations between the two countries.

China, Russia’s main ally, has been trying to position itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, urging Moscow and Kiev to start talks.

But Western leaders have repeatedly criticized Beijing for failing to condemn the Russian offensive, accusing it of providing diplomatic cover for Moscow’s actions.

– Extended Grain Deal –
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the two sides had agreed to extend a deal that allowed key grain exporter Ukraine to resume exports after its Black Sea ports were blocked by Russian warships.

But there was disagreement over the terms.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said the agreement had been extended by 120 days, but a Russian foreign ministry spokesman said Moscow had agreed to a 60-day extension.

The agreement brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022, allowing the exports to pass through safely, was extended by 120 days in November.

The fighting is now centered in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, especially the city of Bakhmut.

Russia attacked the nearby city of Kramatorsk on Saturday, killing two and wounding 10, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said, accusing Moscow of using a cluster bomb in the attack.

An AFP reporter in Kramatorsk heard about 10 explosions almost simultaneously by 4pm local time (1400GMT) and saw smoke rising over a park in the south of the city .

They saw that a woman died at the scene from her injuries.

(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from syndicated feeds.)

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