Defiant Putin visits Mariupol after ICC warrant issued; Xi Jinping set for three-day state visit to Russia

Defiant Putin visits Mariupol after ICC warrant issued; Xi Jinping set for three-day state visit to Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev (left) visit a children's arts-and-crafts centre, part of Chersonesos Taurica historical and archeological park in Sevastopol, Crimea on the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the peninsula, on Saturday, 18 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Russian Presidential Press Office / Handout)

Russian President Vladimir Putin flew into the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol in Donetsk late on Saturday night. The unannounced trip, which wasn’t planned in advance, came hours after he visited Crimea for ‘reunification’ events marking the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.

The Russian leader’s first visit to an area newly occupied by Russia during its year-long war — and the site of one of the deadliest battles — came after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on Friday, citing his alleged role in unlawfully deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. Children from Mariupol are believed to be among those transported to Russia. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping will start a three-day state visit to Russia on Monday. The grain export deal that’s allowed Ukraine to ship from key Black Sea ports was renewed on Saturday, hours before it was due to expire.

Key developments

Serbia’s leader questions wisdom of arrest warrant for Putin  

Accusing Putin of war crimes and issuing an International Criminal Court arrest warrant risks further escalating the war in Ukraine and reducing chances for a peace deal, said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

“Who are you going to talk to then?” after a move that further isolates Putin, said Vucic, whose government has condemned the invasion of Ukraine, but declined to join Western sanctions against the Kremlin. “Saving lives and achieving peace is much more important,” he told reporters in Belgrade. 

Vuvic also said Russia can’t be defeated in a few months or a year.

Zelensky congratulates Xi on re-election 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent a congratulatory message to Xi Jinping after he secured a third term as Chinese president earlier this month, China’s state broadcaster reported.

Kyiv attaches great importance to friendly relations with China, the Ukrainian president was cited as saying by China Central Television.

China’s leader is headed to Russia for a three-day state visit that starts on Monday, and is widely expected to hold a phone conversation with Zelensky after that.




Kremlin releases 40-minute video of Putin in Mariupol 

The Kremlin released a 40-minute video of Russian President Vladimir Putin driving around Mariupol in an SUV at night in a highly classified trip that wasn’t planned in advance.

Putin was shown visiting a new apartment block, where he stood in a playground surrounded by bodyguards while an official showed him photographs of reconstruction works. Later, Putin was shown meeting with local people in the Nevsky district, who told him how grateful they were for Russia’s “victory”. One man invited Putin to his apartment and the Russian president made a brief visit. 

The Kremlin said Putin “inspected the coastline in the area of the yacht club”, although no footage was provided. 

Xi heads to Russia, his chances of peacemaker dented by Putin embrace

Xi Jinping will deliver a strong message of support for Vladimir Putin with his three-day visit to Moscow this week, even as he pitches Beijing’s proposals for brokering an end to the Russian leader’s war in Ukraine.

The trip marks Xi’s most ambitious effort yet to weigh into Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War 2 and will be followed by his first conversation with Ukraine’s president since Putin’s invasion.




Putin makes surprise visit to occupied Ukrainian city 

Putin travelled by helicopter into Mariupol on the Sea of Azov in southern Donetsk province, Tass reported on Sunday. The Russian leader’s unannounced visit — his first since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago and later claimed to have annexed four provinces  — followed his appearance in Crimea. 

Putin reviewed construction and restoration work in Mariupol, Tass said. An official video showed Putin driving a car through streets at night. The location can’t be verified. Much of the city, which had a pre-war population of about 450,000, was laid to waste in one of the bloodiest battles of Russia’s war. 

The visit comes almost exactly a year after a Russian missile strike on the Mariupol Drama Theatre on 16 March 2022 killed hundreds of people sheltering inside. Amnesty International has labelled the theatre strike “a clear war crime”. Ukraine estimates that 20,000 civilians died during Russia’s monthslong siege.

Ukraine grain export deal renewed; duration in debate 

The agreement allowing Ukraine to export grains and other crops out of key Black Sea ports was renewed hours before it was due to expire. 

While Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said the pact, originally brokered last summer by Turkey and the UN, has been extended for four months, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said the agreement was for 60 days. DM


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