The defiant Putin visits Mariupol, second stop on his tour of occupied Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin traveled to Mariupol, his second surprise visit to Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory this weekend, and a defiant gesture shortly after an international court issued a search warrant. judgment against him.
Putin flew to Mariupol, a major Ukrainian industrial center on the Sea of Azov, by helicopter, the Kremlin said in a statement on Sunday. In the city, Mr Putin drove from the airport through several neighborhoods, the Kremlin said, inspecting reconstruction work with a senior Russian infrastructure official. The Kremlin also said Mr Putin had spoken to some local residents.
Before the Russian invasion turned Mariupol into one of the fiercest urban battles in recent times, the city was home to over 400,000 people and the site of Europe’s largest steelworks.
It was Mr Putin’s second unannounced trip this weekend to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, and the closest the Russian leader has been to the front lines since last February’s invasion. His Saturday trip to Crimea was timed to coincide with the ninth anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula.
The two high-profile visits were also gestures of defiance by the Kremlin less than 48 hours after an international court issued an arrest warrant for him. The warrant says Mr Putin bore individual criminal responsibility for the kidnapping and deportation of Ukrainian children that have taken place since Russia invaded last year.
Besides Mariupol, Putin also visited the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Sunday, where he met with senior military commanders involved in the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin said.
Since the onset of winter, both sides have been locked in a fierce battle for land to the east where the front line has barely moved, with each army running out of ammunition and suffering mounting casualties. Mr Putin has shown no sign of letting up or heading to the negotiating table, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to take back all territory seized by Russia, including Crimea.
So far, Ukraine has recovered about half of this territory. And he has persuaded several of his NATO allies to provide their most valuable weapons, including tanks, missiles, anti-missile systems and, just last week, fighter jets. As the war enters its second year, Mr Putin has found himself even more isolated, with a growing list of sanctions threatening to diminish Russia’s revenue from the sale of its oil and gas.
On Monday, he will host Moscow’s most important ally, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, giving Mr Putin the opportunity to reiterate a theme the Kremlin has insisted on since the start of the war: that international support for the Ukraine is restricted to western countries.
China said Mr. Xi’s three-day visit offers Beijing an opportunity to push Mr. Putin into peace talks and hinted that a call with Mr. Zelensky could follow. But the United States has argued that China was not an honest broker and was providing Russia with much-needed supplies for the war, accusations that China has denied and which have helped to plummet relations between the two powers. the lowest in decades.
For months last year, Russia sent thousands of troops to Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s most prosperous pre-war cities, and indiscriminately shelled its apartment buildings. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Ukrainian army hung on for weeks, eventually taking refuge in the city’s steelworks. Finally, in May, Ukrainian forces withdrew, leaving the devastated city under Russian control.