Putin visits occupied portion of Ukraine
In a surprise move, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday traveled to the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol in what was his first time visiting the Donbas region, as The Hill reports.
Putin's stop in Mariupol came after a visit to Crimea to mark the nine-year anniversary of its Russian annexation.
Putin visits Mariupol
According to NPR, the trip to Mariupol was reported by Russian state news agency Tass, which indicated that Putin entered the city via helicopter and continued on to tour the area on foot as well as by car.
The BBC provided a detailed account of several of the sites Putin toured in Mariupol, including those that saw some of the most infamous attacks of the conflict to date, including the Philharmonic Concert Hall and Maternity Hospital Number Three.
To Vadym Boychenko, the Ukrainian mayor-in-exile of Mariupol, the particular landmarks the Russian president chose to visit were “personal” because of the destruction his troops have wrought there.
“We have to understand that Mariupol is a symbolic place for Putin, because of the fury he inflicted on the city of Mariupol. No other city was destroyed like that. No other city was under siege for so long. No other city was subjected to carpet bombing,” said Boychenko. “He has come in person to see what he has done.”
Putin was also seen walking near a new residential compound in the Nevsky district of town, which is comprised of apartment blocks alleged to be part of Russia's efforts to rebuild the war-ravaged city Putin claims to have liberated.
Boychenko cried foul on that characterization, saying, “They build this just to prove that their version of what's happening there is true. But they lie!”
“They lie that they came to liberate the city. But they destroyed it. This city does not exist any longer. And it takes 20 years to restore it!” Boychenko lamented.
Estimates from the United Nations have suggested that 90% of Mariupol's residential buildings were either destroyed or damaged during the height of Russian attacks, and now, according to journalist Morten Risberg, “They're changing street names and they're painting over Ukrainian colors with Russian colors, and they're putting Russia flags everywhere, while the civilians caught in the turmoil were “just focusing on surviving,” as the BBC explained.”
Arrest warrant issued
Putin's Mariupol sojourn was seen an act of relative defiance as well, given that the International Criminal Court (ICC) had just issued an arrest warrant for the Russian president on charges that his military had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, as The Hill noted.
The warrant for Putin's arrest accuses the Russian leader of a war crime stemming from the deportation of Ukrainian children by the hundreds.
Though Putin remained mum on the warrant and charges against him, the Kremlin stated that the allegations are already “null and void,” given that Russia does not recognize the court's jurisdiction.
In doing so, Moscow officials pointed out that Russia is not a party to the ICC, just like the United States, as NPR explained.
“All just for show!”
Despite the cocky impunity with which Putin sauntered around Mariupol, Fox News cited the BBC that he was confronted by a heckler in an incident caught on video by Russian state television near some of the newly built apartment buildings.
Though the person behind the female voice was not visible in the footage, the words “It's all lies, it's all just for show” were heard as Putin passed by.
Putin's health has been a topic of much speculation in recent months, something which persisted during his trip to Crimea and then to Mariupol, with an adviser to the Ukrainian minister of Internal Affairs posting video footage of the Russian leader and noting that he was “visibly limping,” as Newsweek reports.
The aforementioned adviser, Anton Geraschchenko stated, “A visibly limping Putin arrived in occupied Crimea. Russian sources report Putin's visit to Sevastopol to 'celebrate' the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. Which, by the way, will be one of the items on Putin's list of accusations at The Hague Court,” but as of now, the Kremlin leader appears utterly unbothered by either of those purported challenges – at least for the time being.