Putin makes surprise visit to Mariupol, first trip to the region since the start of the war

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19th March 2023 – (Mariupol) Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Mariupol, a city in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine’s Donbas region on Sunday, according to Russian state media. It was Putin’s first trip to the region since the start of the war. The visit came after Putin’s unannounced trip to Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine. Two days later, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader.

Mariupol fell to Russia in May after one of the longest and bloodiest battles in the ongoing conflict. Putin travelled to the city by helicopter, the closest he has been to the frontlines of the year-long war. He drove around several districts of the city and made stops to talk to residents. Mariupol was reduced to ruins after weeks of fighting, with the Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE) accusing Russia of committing war crimes, including early bombing of a maternity hospital.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant against Putin on Friday, accusing him of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. This move further isolates the Russian leader. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made several trips to the battlefield to boost the morale of his troops and discuss strategy, while Putin has largely remained in the Kremlin and overseen what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Kyiv and its allies view the ongoing invasion, now in its 13th month, as an imperialistic land grab that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people in Ukraine. Mariupol is in the Donetsk region, which is one of the four regions Putin moved in September to annex. Kyiv and its Western allies have condemned the move as illegal. Donetsk and the Luhansk region comprise most of the industrialised Donbas region, which has seen the biggest battle in Europe for generations. Russian media reported on Sunday that Putin also met with the top commander of his military operation in Ukraine, including Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who is in charge of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.