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A provocative Vladimir Putin made a surprise weekend visit to Russian-occupied Mariupol, one of the symbols of Ukrainian resistance.
Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast and this is the Russian president’s first trip in the region since the start of his war against Ukraine in February 2022.
Mariupol fell to Russia last May, after the Kremlin failed to seize Kyiv. The battle for Mariupol was one of the war’s longest and bloodiest, as Moscow’s troops carried out some of their most notorious strikes. The Russian assaults included an attack on a maternity ward, which the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said was a war crime, and the bombing of a theater that was clearly marked as housing children.
It is the closest to the front lines Putin has been since the yearlong war began. The move is likely to be seen as particularly provoking to Ukrainians. The trip to Mariupol came after Putin travelled to Crimea on Saturday in an unannounced visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Putin’s visits come just after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader and top Russian official Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova over the forced transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia.
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said on Sunday that if Putin enters the territory of Germany, he would be detained under the ICC warrant. “Germany will be obliged to arrest President Putin if he enters German territory and hand him over to the ICC,” Buschmann told the Bilt am Sonntag newspaper.
So far during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin has largely remained inside the Kremlin, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made a number of trips to the battlefield to boost the morale of Kyiv’s troops.
Putin flew by helicopter to Mariupol, Russian new agencies reported, citing the Kremlin. Then he travelled around several parts of the city, driving a car and making stops to talk to residents.
The Kremlin said Putin also examined the coastline of Mariupol, visiting a yacht club and theater building. In the Nevsky district of Mariupol, Putin visited a family in their home. The new residential neighborhood has been built by Russian military with the first people moving in last September, according to media reports.
Residents have been “actively” returning, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who accompanied Putin, was cited as saying by Russian agencies. “The downtown has been badly damaged,” Khusnullin was reported as saying. “We want to finish [reconstruction] of the center by the end of the year, at least the facade part. The center is very beautiful.”
There were no immediate reaction from Kyiv to the visit.
The Kremlin has not commented yet on the ICC arrest warrant. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said: “The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin. No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used … ” concluding with a toilet paper emoji.
Moscow has previously said it did not recognize the court’s authority.