By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied port city of Mariupol, his first trip to Ukrainian territory that Moscow illegally annexed in September and a show of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest on war crimes charges.
While the ICC’s move was welcomed by Kyiv, the chances of Putin facing trial are slim because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.
Putin arrived in Mariupol late Saturday after visiting Crimea, southwest of Mariupol, to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday. He was shown chatting with Mariupol residents and visiting an art school and a children’s center in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Mariupol became a worldwide symbol of resistance after outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian forces held out in a steel mill there for nearly three months before Moscow finally took control of it in May. Much of the city was pounded to rubble by Russian shelling.
Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which deepened his international isolation despite the unlikelihood of him facing trial anytime soon. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the authority of the ICC, has rejected its move as “legally null and void.”
In an essay published Monday in the People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, Putin said: “We are grateful for the balanced line (of China) in connection with the events taking place in Ukraine, for understanding their background and true causes. We welcome China’s willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the crisis.”
China in February released a position paper calling for an end to fighting in Ukraine and for upholding all countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. It did not address how to resolve Russia’s illegal claim to have annexed four regions of Ukraine.
Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then drove himself around the city’s “memorial sites,” concert hall and coastline. The state channel on Sunday showed Putin chatting with locals outside what looked like a newly built residential complex, and being shown around one of the apartments.
Following his trip to Mariupol, Putin met with Russian military leaders and troops at a command post in Rostov-on-Don, a southern Russian city some 180 kilometers (about 112 miles) farther east, and conferred with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who is in charge of the Russian military operations in Ukraine. Peskov said.
Peskov said the trip had been unannounced, and that Putin intended to “inspect the work of the (command) post in its ordinary mode of operation.”
Speaking to the state RIA-Novosti agency, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin made clear that Russia was in Mariupol to stay. He said the government hoped to finish the reconstruction of its blasted downtown by the end of the year.
Mykhailo Podolyak, chief of staff for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, heaped scorn on Putin’s trip to Mariupol.