Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Sunday, following a weekend trip to Crimea to mark the nine-year anniversary of Moscow’s illegal annexation of the peninsula.
Putin’s surprise visit to Mariupol, reported on Russian state news, was his first visit to the area his army has occupied since September.
The visit also marked defiance from Putin, whose visits to Crimea and Mariupol come after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against him on charges of war crimes. A United Nations report published last week concluded that the Russian military had likely committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war in Ukraine.
The ICC order charged Putin with a war crime for the deportation of hundreds of children from Ukraine. While Putin has not commented on the allegations, the Kremlin has said it does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, meaning the allegations are “null and void.”
Mariupol fell violently to Russian troops at the start of the war, after Ukrainian troops beat back the advance. Hundreds of people were killed in a bomb attack on a theater in the city that housed displaced families.
The Russian news said on Sunday that Putin arrived in the city by helicopter and then drove around a number of “memorial sites.”
Putin’s trip also comes ahead of a planned visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, which is expected to strengthen Russia’s diplomatic position. The Chinese leader’s move has sparked concerns in the west over the tightening of relations between Moscow and Beijing.
US officials last month warned China not to provide lethal aid to Russia to aid in its war in Ukraine after reports surfaced that Xi was considering the move. So far, China has refused to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but has criticized Western sanctions.
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