Putin makes surprise trip to Mariupol, first to Ukraine’s occupied Donbass By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping via video link from Moscow, Russia December 30, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Kuravlev/Kremlin via REUTERS

By Lydia Kelly

(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin has made a surprise visit to Mariupol, Russian state media reported on Sunday, in what is believed to be the Kremlin chief’s first trip to Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine’s northern region. Donbass since the beginning of the war.

The visit came after Putin traveled to Crimea on Saturday in an unannounced visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine, and just two days after the International Criminal Court ( ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader.

Mariupol, which fell to Russia in May after one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war, was Russia’s first major victory after it failed to seize Kiev and focused instead on southeastern Ukraine.

Putin flew by helicopter to Mariupol, Russian news agencies reported citing the Kremlin. It’s the closest Putin has been to the front lines since the year-long war. Driving a car, Putin drove through several parts of the city, making stops and talking to locals.

Mariupol, on the Sea of ​​Azov, was reduced to a smoking shell after weeks of fighting. The Organization for Security and Co-operation and Europe (OSCE) has declared Russia’s early bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol a war crime.

The ICC on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Putin, charging him with the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine, a highly symbolic move that further isolates the Russian leader.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has made several trips to the battlefield to boost the morale of his troops and talk strategy, Putin has remained largely inside the Kremlin while leading what Russia calls his ” special military operation” in Ukraine.

kyiv and its allies say the invasion, now in its 13th month, is an imperialist land grab that has killed thousands and displaced millions in Ukraine.

In the Nevsky district of Mariupol, a new residential area built by the Russian military, Putin visited a family in their home, Russian media reported.

“The head of state also examined the coastline of Mariupol in the area of ​​​​the yacht club, the theater building, memorable places of the city”, quoted the Interfax agency quoting the press service of the Kremlin.

Mariupol is in the Donetsk region, one of four regions Putin moved in September to annex. kyiv and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal. Donetsk, along with the Luhansk region, comprises most of the industrialized part of Donbass in Ukraine which has seen Europe’s biggest battle in generations.

Russian media reported on Sunday that Putin also met with the commander-in-chief of his military operation in Ukraine, including Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov who is in charge of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.


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