Putin makes the first trip to the occupied Ukrainian city with a stopover in Mariupol

Just a day after an international court called for his arrest on war crimes charges, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first visit late Saturday night to a Ukrainian city taken in Russia’s nearly 13-month-old invasion of its neighbor.

According to Russian news reports, Putin followed a stopover in Crimea, the peninsula he forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014, with a surprise visit to Mariupol, an industrial hub on the country’s Black Sea coast that was the site of one of the biggest memorable battles of the war.

Russian forces finally took control of the city after a lengthy siege in May 2022, when outnumbered Ukrainian defenders held out for more than three months in the city’s vast Azovstal steelworks complex.

The defense provided a massive morale boost for Ukrainian forces, and commanders in Kiev said the time and resources Russia had to devote to capturing the city gave them breathing space to organize defenses of other regions.

Mariupol was also the scene of some of the most horrific Russian attacks on civilian targets during the war, when a theater full of children and a maternity ward were hit by Russian missiles, killing hundreds last spring.

Russian news reports said Mr Putin drove his own car through the occupied city late Saturday night, met with residents and visited an art school and youth center, The Associated Press reported.

In carefully staged footage aired on Russian television, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin can be seen informing Putin and claiming that city services and port operations are returning to normal under Russian control.

“People have started to actively return, registering population growth,” Mr. Khusnullin once said, according to the official TASS news service.

Mr Putin traveled to Russia’s military command center in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday for a briefing with General Valery Gerasimov, the recent commander of what the Kremlin is calling Ukraine’s “military special operation,” and his aides.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made a number of trips to the front, and Ukrainians have repeatedly mocked the Russian leader for not having traveled himself.

The visit is part of a momentous week for the 70-year-old Russian leader, who is keen to garner popular support for an invasion that has so far failed to achieve almost any of its key objectives.

On Friday, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Mr Putin on war crimes charges and said he oversaw the violent kidnapping of thousands of children from Ukraine.

And Mr Putin is scheduled to return to the Kremlin on Monday for a high-level three-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader’s first trip to Russia since the Ukraine war began in February 2022.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Source : www.washingtontimes.com

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