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Putin visits occupied Mariupol, staking declare to invaded Ukrainian lands


Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a shock go to late Saturday to occupied Mariupol, the jap Ukrainian metropolis that Russia seized in Could after largely destroying it throughout a brutal months-long siege.

The go to was a symbolic show of bravado by Putin, only a day after the Worldwide Legal Courtroom issued a warrant for his arrest over alleged battle crimes and proper earlier than a state go to to Russia by Chinese language President Xi Jinping, which begins Monday.

However at the same time as Putin personally staked his declare to occupied Ukrainian territory, worldwide condemnation of him grew louder.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a shock go to to Ukraine’s Mariupol as seen in video launched by state media on March 19. (Video: Russian Pool through Reuters)

Germany’s justice minister, Marco Buschmann, informed the Bild newspaper that German authorities would arrest Putin, in accordance with the warrant, if he set foot of their nation. President Biden on Saturday additionally backed the court docket’s determination, saying, “it’s justified.”

Officers in Russia, which, like america, doesn’t acknowledge the worldwide court docket’s jurisdiction, described the warrant as illegal. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred to as it “outrageous and unacceptable” but in addition “null and void” from a authorized perspective.

The go to to Mariupol was Putin’s first identified journey to occupied Ukrainian territory because the begin of his invasion in February final 12 months. Since then, the West estimates some 200,000 Russian troopers have been killed or wounded in Ukraine.

Highlighting the safety considerations, the Kremlin introduced the go to solely on Sunday morning after Putin had left. Ukraine’s protection ministry accused Putin of visiting at evening “like a thief.”

The Russian president was flown into Mariupol on a helicopter. Town, on the Azov Sea, sits about 60 miles south of lively preventing. It’s a part of the Donetsk area, considered one of 4 Ukrainian provinces, together with Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, that Russia claims to have annexed, in violation of worldwide regulation.

Video launched by the Kremlin confirmed Putin driving a automobile by way of a number of neighborhoods to examine “the shoreline, the theater constructing, and memorable locations” and reconstruction work within the metropolis, which was badly broken by airstrikes, in accordance with a authorities readout posted Sunday.

Different movies carried on Russian state media early Sunday confirmed Putin sitting in an empty corridor of a rebuilt philharmonic, in addition to speaking to a small group of residents in nighttime darkness outdoors a newly constructed residential complicated within the Nevsky district, a undertaking broadly utilized by Russian propagandists to reward Moscow’s swift rebuilding of the town.

“This can be a little island of paradise right here,” one lady mentioned within the video earlier than Putin toured an condominium within the constructing.

In feedback on Mariupol message boards on the favored Telegram messaging app, some residents complained that nobody confirmed Putin “the empty pits which are the foundations of destroyed homes.”

On one non-public Telegram channel, a girl questioned why Putin didn’t go to “neighborhoods the place persons are nonetheless with out heating, with damaged home windows, water and electrical energy intermittently?”

She additionally requested why he wasn’t proven the cemetery at Stary Krym, the place hundreds of latest graves are marked merely with numbers as an alternative of names.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the ousted Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, wrote on Telegram that “Putin or considered one of his doubles” had visited Mariupol in a single day. Andryushchenko referred to Putin as a “scarecrow,” saying he visited at evening in all probability to cover the dimensions of destruction Russian forces had prompted within the metropolis. At evening, he wrote, “the true great thing about the Russian occupation design is hidden by darkness.”

Different Ukrainian officers additionally steered, with out offering proof, that Putin had not likely visited however despatched a physique double.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, linked the go to and the arrest warrant for battle crimes. “The legal at all times returns to the crime scene,” Podolyak tweeted. “The assassin of hundreds of Mariupol households got here to admire the ruins of the town & graves. Cynicism & lack of regret.”

ICC points arrest warrant for Putin over battle crimes in Ukraine

The Russian president’s journey was a part of a two-day tour throughout occupied territories.

Earlier on Saturday, Putin visited Crimea, which Russia invaded and illegally annexed in 2014, to mark the ninth anniversary of Moscow’s absorption of the Ukrainian peninsula. The Kremlin additionally mentioned Putin had visited the Russian metropolis of Rostov-on-Don for a gathering with prime navy commanders on the regional Protection Ministry headquarters.

Putin’s journey appeared designed to make a muscular show of Russia’s claims to invaded Ukrainian territory and to showcase tangible features in a battle that has largely stalled after a string of Russian navy defeats within the fall. Along with the estimated 200,000 Russian fighters killed or wounded, Ukrainian navy casualties are estimated at as much as 120,000, and in accordance with the United Nations, greater than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed.

The go to to Mariupol additionally projected a picture of Putin as defiant and unbowed after the Worldwide Legal Courtroom (ICC) issued a warrant for his arrest, saying he was personally chargeable for the legal abduction and deportation of Ukrainian kids taken throughout the Russian border.

Not less than 1,000 such kids have been relocated to Russia from Mariupol, in accordance with Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s kids’s rights ombudswoman. The ICC additionally issued an arrest warrant for Lvova-Belova on Friday, accusing her of the identical crimes as Putin.

Battle forces hundreds of disabled Ukrainians into establishments

To solidify Russia’s management over the occupied territories, Moscow has pushed to carry the inhabitants into its authorized orbit by issuing Russian passports and making it straightforward to join modest authorities advantages. Russia has sought to current the annexation of the 4 areas as a fait accompli, and the Russian structure was even rewritten to include them.

After Putin’s go to, Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, tried to painting the president as targeted on easing the transition for residents.

“In dialog with the president, residents of Mariupol raised questions associated to the delay in paying salaries, acquiring Russian citizenship, and issuing Russian passports,” Peskov informed the state-controlled information company Tass. “The president will give directions to take care of the scenario.”

Mariupol turned an emblem of Ukrainian resistance throughout weeks of relentless Russian assaults, together with the bombing of a drama theater, which had been used as a shelter by tons of of individuals.

It’s also one of many few occupied regional hubs Moscow nonetheless firmly controls, after its troops have been pressured to retreat from a lot of the northeastern Kharkiv area and from Kherson metropolis within the south throughout Ukrainian counteroffensives within the fall.

The entrance line has barely moved within the winter months, with the 2 sides engaged in a battle of attrition that has value many lives and depleted ammunition provides.

Ukrainian forces, emboldened by new weapons provides from its Western allies, are believed to be gearing up for an offensive within the spring, with Zelensky promising to reclaim all Russian-occupied areas, together with Crimea.

Ukraine wanting expert troops and munitions as losses, pessimism develop

Putin has proven no signal that he’s keen to barter with Kyiv and as an alternative has sought to normalize the battle in current public speeches, apparently looking for to organize Russians for a protracted battle.

Following the invasion, the West has largely shunned Moscow, imposing export controls and an unlimited array of financial sanctions in hopes of undermining Putin’s battle machine.

However on Monday, the arrival of Xi is about to supply Beijing’s strongest present of assist because the battle began. China insists it’s impartial within the battle and has sought to painting itself as a possible mediator.

For Putin, Xi’s go to bolsters the Kremlin’s elementary speaking level that lively assist for Ukraine is restricted to Western capitals, whereas Russia actively cultivates alliances elsewhere.

Siobhán O’Grady, David L. Stern, Serhiy Morgunov, and Kamila Hrabchuk in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed to this report.



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