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Vladimir Putin Pays Surprise Visit to Occupied Mariupol in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin Pays Surprise Visit to Occupied Mariupol in UkraineVladimir Putin paid an unannounced visit to the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Saturday evening as a show of defiance after the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of war crimes.

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Russian state media released footage of the president’s first visit to Russian-occupied territories in the Donbas region of Ukraine since he launched a full-scale invasion last year. The Tass news agency reported that Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter on Saturday and toured the city in his own vehicle. He visited several sites, spoke with locals, and was given a report on the city’s reconstruction efforts.

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Mariupol fell in May of last year following one of the bloodiest battles of the war. It marked Russia’s first major victory in its war against Ukraine, after it failed to capture Kyiv and instead focused on south-eastern objectives. The port city was taken after a protracted siege during which Russian forces destroyed the Azovstal steelworks, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the city.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Russia’s early bombing of a Mariupol maternity hospital was a war crime. Putin traveled to Crimea on Saturday, a short distance south-west of Mariupol, to commemorate the ninth anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the Ukrainian peninsula. State-run Russian television showed him touring the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol with the Moscow-appointed local governor, Mikhail Razvoshayev.

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Putin reportedly visited an art school and a children’s center in response to the ICC’s arrest warrant, which was issued after a panel of judges determined there were “reasonable grounds” to believe Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Aleksandrovna Lvova-Belova, were responsible for the “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children.

Since the beginning of the conflict in February 2022, Kyiv reports that over 16,000 Ukrainian children have been transferred to Russia, the majority of them were placed in institutions and foster care. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, told AFP that Putin is now subject to arrest in any of the court’s more than 120 member states.

Putin has not spoken publicly on the warrant, which has increased his international isolation despite the fact that he is unlikely to face prosecution in the near future. Although Russia does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction, the Kremlin denounced its validity as “void.”

In May, when Moscow totally conquered Mariupol, an estimated 100,000 of the city’s prewar population of 450,000 remained. Numerous people were deprived of food, water, heat, and electricity. Relentless bombardment left rows upon rows of shattered or hollowed-out buildings.

Putin has primarily remained in the Kremlin while directing what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, whereas Zelenskiy has made numerous excursions to the battlefield to raise the morale of his troops and discuss tactics. He traveled from Mariupol to Rostov in southern Russia, where state television showed him with Valery Gerasimov, the leader of Russia’s combat campaign in Ukraine.

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On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The trip will serve to reinforce the leaders’ close connections and provide an opportunity for Moscow to emphasize that it has not been ostracized by the international community. China submitted a 12-point peace proposal for resolving the conflict last month, but it omitted crucial details such as whether Russian soldiers should withdraw.

Xi’s visit will be widely interpreted as a show of support for Putin, whom Xi has described as his “best friend”. But he will also want to demonstrate to the world that he can be a restraining force on Putin, for example by preventing him from deploying nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine.

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