Putin visits occupied Mariupol, staking declare to invaded Ukrainian lands


Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a shock go to on Saturday night to occupied Mariupol, the jap Ukrainian metropolis that Russia seized in May after principally destroying it throughout a brutal months-long siege.

The go to was a symbolic show of bravado by Putin, only a day after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest over alleged struggle crimes and proper earlier than a state go to to Russia by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which begins Monday. It was Putin’s first recognized journey to occupied Ukrainian territory because the begin of his invasion in February final 12 months, during which the West estimates some 200,000 Russian troopers have been killed or wounded.

Highlighting the safety issues, the Kremlin introduced the go to solely on Sunday morning after Putin had left.

He was flown into Mariupol on a helicopter. The metropolis, on the Azov Sea, sits about 60 miles south of lively combating. It is a part of the Donetsk area, certainly one of 4 Ukrainian provinces, together with Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, that Russia claims to have annexed, in violation of worldwide legislation.

Video launched by the Kremlin confirmed Putin driving a automobile by means of a number of neighborhoods to examine “the coastline, the theater building, and memorable places” and reconstruction work within the metropolis, which was badly broken by airstrikes, based on a authorities readout posted Sunday.

Other movies carried on Russian state media early Sunday confirmed Putin sitting in an empty corridor of a rebuilt philharmonic, in addition to speaking to a small group of residents in nighttime darkness exterior a newly constructed residential advanced within the Nevsky district, a mission extensively utilized by Russian propagandists to reward Moscow’s swift rebuilding of town.

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“This is a little island of paradise here,” one lady stated within the video earlier than Putin toured an house within the constructing.

In feedback on Mariupol message boards on the favored Telegram messaging app, some residents complained that nobody confirmed Putin “the empty pits that are the foundations of destroyed houses.”

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the ousted Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, wrote on Telegram that “Putin or one of his doubles” had visited Mariupol in a single day. Andryushchenko referred to Putin as a “scarecrow,” saying he visited at night time in all probability to cover the dimensions of destruction Russian forces had precipitated within the metropolis. At night time, he wrote, “the true beauty of the Russian occupation design is hidden by darkness.”

Other Ukrainian officers additionally urged, with out offering proof, that Putin had not likely visited however despatched a physique double.

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The Russian president’s journey was a part of a two-day tour throughout occupied territories.

Earlier on Saturday, Putin visited Crimea, which Russian invaded and illegally annexed in 2014, to mark the ninth anniversary of Moscow’s absorption of the Ukrainian peninsula. The Kremlin additionally stated Putin had visited the Russian metropolis of Rostov-on-Don for a gathering with prime army commanders on the regional Defense Ministry headquarters.

Putin’s journey appeared designed to make a muscular show of Russia’s claims to invaded Ukrainian territory and to showcase tangible good points in a struggle that has largely stalled after a string of Russian army defeats within the fall. In addition to the estimated 200,000 Russian fighters killed or wounded, Ukrainian army casualties are estimated at as much as 120,000, and based on the United Nations, greater than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed.

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The go to to Mariupol additionally projected a picture of Putin as defiant and unbowed after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for his arrest, saying he was personally accountable for the felony abduction and deportation of Ukrainian kids taken throughout the Russian border.

At least 1,000 such kids had been relocated to Russia from Mariupol, based on Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s kids’s rights ombudswoman. The ICC additionally issued an arrest warrant for Lvova-Belova on Friday, accusing her of the identical crimes as Putin.

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To solidify Russia’s management over the occupied territories, Moscow has pushed to convey the inhabitants into its authorized orbit by issuing Russian passports and making it simple to join modest authorities advantages. Russia has sought to current the annexation of the 4 areas as a fait accompli, and the Russian structure was even rewritten to include them.

After Putin’s go to, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, tried to painting the president as centered on easing the transition for residents.

“In conversation with the president, residents of Mariupol raised questions related to the delay in paying salaries, obtaining Russian citizenship, and issuing Russian passports,” Peskov advised the state-controlled information company Tass. “The president will give instructions to deal with the situation.”

Mariupol grew to become an emblem of Ukrainian resistance throughout weeks of relentless Russian assaults, together with the bombing of a drama theater, which had been used as a shelter by a whole lot of individuals.

It can also be one of many few occupied regional hubs Moscow nonetheless firmly controls, after its troops had been pressured to retreat from a lot of the northeastern Kharkiv area and from Kherson metropolis within the south throughout Ukrainian counteroffensives within the fall.

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The entrance line has barely moved within the winter months, with the 2 sides engaged in a struggle of attrition that has value many lives and depleted ammunition provides.

Ukrainian forces, emboldened by new weapons provides from its Western allies, are believed to be gearing up for an offensive within the spring, with President Volodymyr Zelensky promising to reclaim all Russian-occupied areas, together with Crimea.

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Putin has proven no signal that he’s keen to barter with Kyiv and as a substitute has sought to normalize the struggle in latest public speeches, apparently in search of to arrange Russians for a protracted struggle.

Following the invasion, the West has largely shunned Moscow, imposing export controls and an unlimited array of financial sanctions in hopes of undermining Putin’s struggle machine.

But on Monday, the arrival of Xi is about to offer Beijing’s strongest present of assist because the struggle began. China insists it’s impartial within the battle and has sought to painting itself as a possible mediator.

For Putin, Xi’s go to bolsters the Kremlin’s elementary speaking level that lively assist for Ukraine is proscribed to Western capitals, whereas Russia actively cultivates alliances elsewhere.

Siobhán O’Grady, David L. Stern and Kamila Hrabchuk in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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