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A defiant Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit over the weekend to Russian-occupied Mariupol, one of the symbols of the Ukrainian resistance.
Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast and is the Russian president’s first trip to the region since his war against Ukraine began in February 2022.
Mariupol fell to Russia in May, after the Kremlin failed to capture Kyiv. The battle for Mariupol was one of the longest and bloodiest of the war, as Moscow’s troops carried out some of their most famous strikes. The Russian attacks included an attack on a maternity ward, where the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said was a war crime, and the bombing of a theater clearly marked as housing children.
It’s the closest to the front lines that Putin has been since the year-long war began. The move is likely to be seen as particularly provocative among Ukrainians. The trip to Mariupol comes after Putin traveled to Crimea on Saturday in a surprise visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Putin’s visits come just after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant of arrest for Russian leader and top Russian official Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova on the forced migration of Ukrainian children to Russia.
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said on Sunday that if Putin enters German territory, he will be detained under an ICC warrant. “Germany is obliged to arrest President Putin if he enters German territory and hand him over to the ICC,” Buschmann told the Bilt am Sonntag newspaper.
So far during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin has largely stayed inside the Kremlin, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made several trips to the battlefield to boost the morale of Kyiv’s troops.
Putin flew by helicopter to Mariupol, new Russian agencies reported, citing the Kremlin. He then toured several parts of the city, driving a car and stopping to talk to residents.
The Kremlin said Putin also inspected the coast of Mariupol, visited a yacht club and theater building. In the Nevsky district of Mariupol, Putin visited a family at their home. The new residential neighborhood was built by the Russian military where the first people moved in in September, according to media reports.
The residents have been “actively” returns, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who is with Putin, was quoted as saying by Russian agencies. “Downtown was badly damaged,” Khusnullin reported. “We want to finish [reconstruction] of the middle by the end of the year, at least in the front part. The center is very nice.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser in the office of the Ukrainian president, criticized Putin’s visit to Mariupol on Sunday.
“The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime,” said Podolyak in a tweet. “The killer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and the graves. Cynicism & lack of remorse,” he said.
The Kremlin has not yet commented on the ICC arrest warrant. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said: “The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin. No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used …” ends a toilet paper emoji.
Moscow has said this before not recognized court authority.