The Russian president arrived in Crimea to mark the anniversary of the 2014 annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Crimea on a surprise visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.
Putin was greeted on Saturday by the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, and taken to see a new children’s center and art school in what the official said was a surprise visit.
“Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin knows how to surprise. In a good way,” Razvozhayev said on messaging app Telegram.
“But Vladimir Vladimirovich came in person. He himself. Behind the wheel. Because of a historic day, the president is always with Sevastopol and the people of Sevastopol,” said the official appointed by Moscow.
State media did not immediately broadcast any comments from Putin, a day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that issued an arrest warrant against him and accused him of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.
Putin has not yet commented publicly on the warrant. A Kremlin spokesman called it “null and void” and said Russia finds the very issues raised by the ICC “outrageous and unacceptable”.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, eight years before launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine says it will fight to expel Russia from Crimea and all other territories Russia seized in the year-long war.
Putin has shown no intention of giving up the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he stressed on Friday the importance of holding on to Crimea.
“Obviously, security issues are the main priority for Crimea and Sevastopol today,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do whatever it takes to counter any threat.”
The ICC’s arrest warrant is the first to be issued against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.
The move was immediately dismissed by Moscow and hailed by Ukraine as a major victory. Its practical implications, however, may be limited as the chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely. Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its citizens. Putin faces arrest, however, if he travels abroad to an ICC member country.