In this photo taken from a video released by Russian television on Sunday, March 19, 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, visits the theater during his visit to Mariupol in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region.
Kyiv/Moscow – Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance before Russia took control of it after fierce fighting last May. Putin arrived in the port city by helicopter not long after he visited the Crimean peninsula on Saturday, which Russia annexed in 2014. According to the TASS agency, the president also visited Rostov-on-Don in southwestern Russia, where he met with Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who commands the Russian forces in Ukraine.
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It is the first time that a Russian president has visited the occupied territories, which decided last September to join Russia in violation of international law. Western media remind us that Putin, as commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces, has thus far come closest to the front, which he has never visited until now. According to the TASS agency, it was Putin's first visit to Donbas, which has been fought over since 2014.
The press department of the Kremlin reported on Putin's trip this morning and described the visit to Mariupol as a “working trip” on which the Russian president he toured several neighborhoods of the city, chatted with the locals, and also visited one family in their home. According to the president's spokesman, it was a spontaneous decision that was not planned.
After Mariupol, according to spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin moved in a car that he drove himself, no convoy accompanied him. In Mariupol, which was seriously damaged in the battle, which had almost 450,000 inhabitants before the war, accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Chusnullin, he also inspected the philharmonic building, which, however, has nothing to do with the local theater. According to Kyiv, hundreds of people died in it after last year's raid by Russian forces.
“Criminals always return to the scene of their crimes. The organizer of the murders of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins and mass graves,” Mykhaylo Podoljak, adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, wrote on Twitter. At the same time, he read Putin's cynicism and the fact that he is not troubled by remorse. Ukraine's Ministry of Defense wrote on Twitter that Putin sneaked into Mariupol like a thief under the cover of night: it's safer and the darkness also allows him to highlight what he wants to show. The city, completely destroyed by his army, and the few surviving inhabitants are kept away from prying eyes, the Ukrainian ministry wrote.
The Ukrainian authorities established the Mariupol Philharmonic in the former House of Culture as a counterweight to the Philharmonic building in Donetsk, controlled by pro-Russian separatists. She hardly suffered in the fights. According to the original intention of the Russian occupiers, the trial of the Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol was to take place in it. However, the trial did not take place because Putin ordered the captured soldiers from the Azov Regiment to be exchanged for Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Medvedchuk, the BBC's Russian newsroom reported on its website.
A few hours after the visit was announced, a video of Putin in Mariupol appeared on state media, which Ukrainian media described as strange and expressed doubts about the entire visit. However, according to the Vjorstka server, the footage actually shows the Nevsky housing estate, which was completed last October.
In the Crimean capital of Sevastopol, Putin inspected the newly opened art school and children's leisure center on Saturday. According to the AP agency, the fact that he showed up in these places can be seen as an attempt to respond to the move of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which issued an arrest warrant for him on Friday due to the abduction of Ukrainian children from the occupied territories, including from Mariupol, to Russia. Putin has not yet commented on the arrest warrant, but according to Reuters, his trip can be seen as a demonstration of readiness to continue the war.
The trip preceded Chinese leader Xi Jinping's three-day visit to Russia, which begins on Monday and will be the first since outbreak of war in Ukraine. According to the AP, the Chinese president is expected to provide significant diplomatic support to Putin in his confrontation with the West.
“China does not really care whether the front passes 100 kilometers more to the west or 100 kilometers to the east and whose flag flags over Bakhmut. It is important for China that the war does not lead to the collapse of the current regime in Russia and the establishment of a pro-democratic and pro-Western government in Moscow. Since this is unlikely so far, it does not make sense for Beijing to take any drastic steps.” Alexander Gabuyev of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the BBC.