Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sputnik | reuters
A day after being indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which witnessed the worst devastation of its year-old invasion.
State television showed extended footage of Putin being shown around the city on Saturday night, meeting residents and being briefed on reconstruction efforts by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusulin.
The port city of Mariupol became known around the world as a symbol of death and destruction as much of it was reduced to ruins in the first months of the war, eventually falling to Russian forces in May.
Hundreds were killed in the bombings at the theater where families with children were taking shelter. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the initial bombing of the maternity hospital by Russia was a war crime. Moscow denies this and has said since the attack on February 24 last year that it does not target civilians.
Putin’s visit had the air of a gesture of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest on Friday, accusing him of a war crime in deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.
He has not commented publicly on the move, but his spokesman said it was legally “invalid and void” and that Russia found the questions raised by the ICC “offensive and unacceptable”.
The trip to Mariupol was Putin’s first visit to the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine’s Donbass region since the start of the war, and the closest he has come to the front line.
While Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has made several trips to the battlefield to boost the morale of his troops and talk about strategy, Putin has largely remained inside the Kremlin, while Russia maintains its “special forces” in Ukraine. campaign”.
Kiev and its allies say the invasion is an imperialist land grab that has killed thousands and displaced millions in Ukraine.
‘Piece of Paradise’
Putin’s visit to Mariupol took place in the dark. State TV showed him at the wheel of a car, driving through the city with his deputy prime minister, Khusnullin, and detailed the reconstruction of housing, bridges, hospitals, transport routes and a concert hall. Was going
State media said he visited a new residential neighborhood that was built by the Russian military last September with the first people.
“Do you live here? Do you like it?” Putin was shown asking the residents.
“Too much. It’s a little piece of heaven that we have now,” one woman replied, folding her hands and thanking Putin for the “victory.”
Khusnullin told Putin residents were “actively” returning. Mariupol had a population of half a million people before the war and was home to the Azovstal steel plant, one of the largest in Europe, where Ukrainian fighters lived for weeks in underground tunnels and bunkers before being forced to surrender Was.
“The city has been badly damaged,” Khusnullin said. “We want to complete (rebuild) the center by the end of the year, at least the front part. The center is very beautiful.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Ukrainian government on the visit.
Mariupol is in the Donetsk region, one of four largely Russian-held regions of Ukraine that Putin moved to annex in September in an action dismissed as illegal by most countries at the UN General Assembly.
Putin traveled by helicopter after visiting Crimea on the ninth anniversary of its annexation by Russia from Ukraine.
From Mariupol, he went to Rostov in southern Russia, where state TV on Sunday showed him meeting with Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, commander of Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
Orignal Post From: Putin makes surprise visit to Russian-occupied Mariupol in wake of ICC warrant