Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Sunday, following a trip over the weekend to Crimea that marked the nine-year anniversary of Moscow’s illegal annexation of the peninsula.
Putin’s surprise visit to Mariupol, which was reported by Russian state news, was his first to the territory, which his military has occupied since September.
The visit also marked a show of defiance from Putin, whose visits to Crimea and Mariupol come after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him on war crime charges. A United Nations report released last week concluded that the Russian military had likely committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during its war in Ukraine.
The ICC warrant accused Putin of a war crime for the deportation of hundreds of children from Ukraine. While Putin has not commented on the charges, the Kremlin has said it does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court, meaning the accusations are “null and void.”
Mariupol fell violently to Russian forces at the beginning of the war, after Ukrainian troops fought back advances. A bombing of a theater in the city, which was housing displaced families, killed hundreds.
Russian news said on Sunday that Putin arrived in the city by helicopter and then drove himself around some “memorial sites.”
Putin’s trip also comes before a planned visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, expected to boost Russia’s diplomatic standing. The Chinese leader’s move has raised concerns in the west about the tightening of relationships between Moscow and Beijing.
U.S. officials in the past month have warned China against providing Russia with lethal aid to help in its war in Ukraine, after reports surfaced that Xi was considering the move. So far, China has refused to denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine but has criticized western sanctions.
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