In view of the arrest warrant, Russia’s Putin visits the annexed Crimea

KIEV, Ukraine – Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of Ukraine’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, a day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader who accused him of war crimes .

Putin was visiting an art school and children’s center that are part of a project to develop a historical park on the site of an ancient Greek colony, Russian state news agencies said.

The ICC on Friday accused him of bearing personal responsibility for kidnapping children from Ukraine during the full-scale Russian invasion of the neighboring country that began nearly 13 months ago.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move most of the world denounced as illegal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on Russia to withdraw from the peninsula and the areas occupied since last year.

Putin has shown no intention of abandoning the Kremlin’s achievements. Instead, on Friday he stressed the importance of holding Crimea.

“Obviously, security issues are now the top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do whatever is necessary to ward off threats.”

PHOTOS: Russian attacks continue after Putin’s arrest warrant

Putin took a plane to travel the 1,821 kilometers (1,132 miles) from Moscow to Sevastopol, where he took the wheel of the car that transported him around the city, according to Moscow Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev.

The International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant was the first issued against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation.

The move was immediately dismissed by Moscow – and welcomed by Ukraine as a major breakthrough. However, the chances of Putin being tried before the ICC are highly unlikely as Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradites its nationals.

Despite the court’s lawsuit and its implications for Putin, the United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Saturday that a war deal allowing grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia was extended, although neither said how long.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted that the deal had been extended by 120 days, the period Ukraine, Turkey and the UN wanted. But Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russia’s Tass news agency Moscow had agreed to a 60-day extension.

Russia and Ukraine are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products that developing countries depend on. They signed separate deals with the UN and Turkey last year to allow food to leave Ukraine’s blocked ports.

Russia has complained that supplies of its fertilizers – which its deal was intended to facilitate – are not making it to global markets. The country briefly withdrew from the deal in November before rejoining and agreeing to a 120-day extension.

Putin signed a law on Saturday imposing hefty fines for discrediting or disseminating misleading information about volunteers or mercenaries fighting in Ukraine. The law provides for a fine of 50,000 rubles ($660) for a first offense and up to 15 years in prison for repeat offences.

The measure reflects a measure adopted in the early days of the war that referred to speaking negatively about soldiers or the Russian military in general.

Fighters from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company known for its fierce tactics, have played a key role in Ukraine, particularly in Russia’s bitter campaign to seize the town of Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk province.

In Ukraine, authorities reported widespread Russian attacks between Friday night and Saturday morning. The Ukrainian Air Force Command wrote on Telegram that 11 of 16 drones were shot down in attacks targeting the capital Kiev and the western province of Lviv, among others.

The head of the Kyiv city administration, Serhii Popko, said the Ukrainian air defense shot down all drones heading for the capital. Lviv Governor Maksym Kozytskyi said on Saturday that three of six drones were shot down, while the other three hit a district bordering Poland.

According to the Ukrainian Air Force, the attacks came from the east coast of the Sea of ​​Azov and Russia’s Bryansk province, which also borders Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military reported that Russian forces launched 34 airstrikes, one missile attack and 57 rounds of anti-aircraft fire between Friday morning and Saturday morning. Falling debris hit the southern Ukrainian province of Kherson, damaging seven houses and a kindergarten.

Russia still focuses the bulk of its offensive operations on Ukraine’s industrial east, concentrating its attacks on Bakhmut and other parts of Donetsk province.

Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said one person was killed and three wounded when 11 towns and villages in the province were shelled on Friday.

Further west, Russian missiles hit a residential area overnight in the city of Zaporizhia, the capital of the partially occupied province of the same name. No casualties were reported, but houses were damaged, said Anatoliy Kurtev of the Zaporizhia City Council.

British military officials said on Saturday Russia is likely to extend conscription to bolster its troops fighting in Ukraine. The UK Ministry of Defense said in its latest analysis that MPs in the Russian Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, have introduced a bill to change the age for men from the current 18-27 to 21-30.

The ministry said many Russian men aged 18 to 21 are applying for exemption from military service because they are enrolled in colleges. The wider age range would mean that eventually they would have to serve. UK officials said the law is expected to be passed and come into force in January 2024.

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