Ukraine war: Vladimir Putin tours Mariupol in first visit to Ukrainian territory occupied since invasion | World News

Vladimir Putin has made his first visit to Ukrainian territory occupied since the beginning of the war, touring the city of Mariupol in the southeast of the country.

The president made what state media described as a “working trip” to the port city in Donetsk, which was annexed in September last year after Russia’s invasion.

The visit appeared to be a show of defiance after a warrant for his arrest was issued by the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes on Friday.

Mr Putin, who arrived in a helicopter, travelled around several districts of the city, making stops and talking to residents, according to the state-owned TASS news agency, which cited the Kremlin.

Vladimir Putin arrives in Mariupol
In this photo taken from video released by Russian TV Pool on Sunday, March 19, 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to local residents at their new flat during his visit to Mariupol in Russian-controlled Donetsk region, Ukraine. Putin has traveled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula's annexation from Ukraine. (Pool Photo via AP)
Vladimir Putin tours an apartment block in Mariupol

A video posted on state media showed the president driving around the city and visiting a concert hall that was allegedly used by Russia to keep prisoners of war in cages during “sham” trials last year.

Mr Putin also visited Crimea yesterday to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine.

He annexed the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia in September, signing a law that absorbed them into Russia after so-called referenda rejected as a sham by Ukraine and the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev visit the Children's Art and Aesthetic center, part of Chersonesos Taurica historical and archeological park in Sevastopol, Crimea, Saturday, March 18, 2023. Putin has traveled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula's annexation from Ukraine. (Sputnik, Kremlin Press Service Pool Photo via AP)
Mr Putin and Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, in Crimea on Saturday

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How steelworks turned into the final outpost in the brutal battle for Mariupol

Most of the world considers Russia’s annexations to be illegal, while Ukraine has said it will fight to get the regions back.

Mariupol, a strategically important port city on the Sea of Azov, was the site of some of the fiercest fighting in the early part of the war.

Ukrainian forces holed up in the city’s Azovstal steelworks for a last-stand defensive, which ended in surrender in May after a three-month siege of the facility by Russia.

A view shows Azovstal steel mill destroyed in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, November 16, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
The Azovstal steelworks

More than 2,500 buildings sustained damage in the siege of Mariupol – nearly half of everything that stood in the city.

Russia has been remodelling the city in its own image since its capture, including turning the ruined steelworks, once one of the biggest metallurgical plants in Europe, into a “tech and eco park”.

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Mariupol: Russia’s new model city

Mr Putin also met the top command of his military operation in Ukraine, including Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, according to Russian media.

The meeting is said to have taken place at the Rostov-on-Don command post, in southern Russia, near to the Ukrainian border, according to TASS.

Mr Putin flew from Moscow to Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city, and was greeted by Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Russian-installed governor, before visiting an art school and a children’s centre.

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Vladimir Putin visits Crimea

Mr Putin’s remarks were not broadcast by state media but as recently as Friday, he was talking about the importance of holding on to Crimea.

“Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said.

“We will do everything needed to fend off any threats.”

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Mr Putin has not commented publicly on the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant, but his spokesman called it “null and void” on Friday.

The court says he is responsible for the abduction of hundreds of Ukrainian children since Russia’s full invasion of the country began in February last year.

Russia does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court, which is based in The Hague.

It also does not extradite its citizens to face the court’s justice, meaning Mr Putin is unlikely to ever face trial there.

Visit is a show of strength to Russians back home

Vladimir Putin’s visit to Mariupol comes in the week that he was indicted by the International Criminal Court for the trafficking of children to all intents and purposes and comes off the back of his visit to Crimea on Saturday for the ninth anniversary of its illegal annexation.

This appears to be a show of strength, a chance for Putin to show his audience back home that he is undeterred and unfazed by the arrest warrant issued for war crimes.

It’s all for the cameras, it’s to send a message back home that not only is it business as usual for him, but that he can go wherever he wants – including into mainland Ukraine.

The Russian president has mainly been in Moscow throughout this war, he hasn’t gone to the frontlines really, in contrast to President Zelenskyy who often goes to the frontline to boost the morale of his troops.

Mariupol is significant for Russia because it’s the only large city they hold in mainland Ukraine – it’s their only real “victory” in this war of attrition.

Mariupol was also the scene of terrible fighting this time last year, and there are an awful lot of allegations of war crimes there that Putin may well have to answer to in future as well.

This war is grinding on, and all indicators from both sides is that it could go on for a long time. But Ukraine has been determined to take back Mariupol since the day they lost it to Russian forces, and they are showing no signs of giving up that hope.

And while people here will be disturbed by what they see, waking up to these pictures of Putin strolling around Mariupol, you could argue there is not much Putin does that surprises them anymore – it’s the type of thing they might expect from him.

I don’t think it makes much difference to them anyway, the country remains united, they hate the war, but they remain determined to keep fighting.

And Putin turning up in occupied territory in Ukraine is not going to change that, if anything it will probably make them more determined that he never gets to do it in future again.

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