(Moscow) Vladimir Putin was in Crimea on Saturday for the 9e anniversary of the annexation of this Ukrainian peninsula by Russia, a surprise trip the day after the issuance of an international arrest warrant against the Russian president.
This is the Kremlin master’s first trip to Crimea since the outbreak of the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, which earned Russia a series of severe international sanctions, added to those already imposed following the 2014 annexation.
Arrived in Sevastopol, home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, Mr. Putin notably attended the inauguration ceremony of a school of arts for children in the company of the local governor, Mikhail Razvojayev, according to the images broadcast by the public television channel Rossia-1.
This city being located only about 240 km from Kherson, a southern Ukrainian city retaken by the Kyiv army in November after the withdrawal of Russian forces, this trip by Mr. Putin is also the first made in a place so close to the front line.
“Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin knows how to surprise. In the good sense of the word, ”wrote on Telegram Mr. Razvojayev.
According to him, a school of arts for children was to be inaugurated on Saturday with the participation of the Russian leader by videoconference.
“But Vladimir Vladimirovich came in person. Himself. Driving. Because on a historic day like today, he is always with Sevastopol and its people,” said Mikhail Razvojayev.
“Our country has an incredible leader! he enthused.
Russia annexed Crimea on March 18, 2014, following a referendum not recognized by Kyiv and the international community.
If Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in January that he intended to take back Crimea – “our land” – with weapons, Moscow continues to hammer home that “Crimea is Russian”, refusing to make it the object of possible peace negotiations.
Vladimir Putin, whose last visit to Crimea dates back to November 2021, has been targeted since Friday by an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which accuses him of the war crime of “illegal deportation” of Ukrainian children.
The Kremlin has ruled the warrant “null and void”, the issuance of which was announced the same day Moscow and Beijing unveiled Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia next week, which is supposed to usher in a “new era” in relations between two allies.
This visit will take place from March 20 to 22, a little over a year after the launch of the Russian offensive in Ukraine which led the Kremlin to reorient itself towards China, amid tensions with the West which supports the ‘Ukraine.
Last month, China sought to establish itself as a mediator in the Ukrainian conflict by issuing a document urging Moscow and Kyiv to hold peace talks.
Two killed in strikes in Kramatorsk
Two people were killed and eight injured by Russian strikes with “cluster munitions” on Saturday afternoon in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, the city’s mayor announced.
“Russia continues to reign terror. Consequences of the bombardment of Kramatorsk with cluster munitions: 2 people were killed and 8 injured, 3 of them seriously,” said Mayor Alexander Gontcharenko on his Facebook page.
A dozen residential buildings and 14 municipal facilities were damaged, he said.
AFP journalists heard a dozen near-simultaneous explosions shortly before 4 p.m. and saw smoke rising in a park in the south of the city.
Shortly after, another dozen explosions of the same type were heard in a residential area about 2 km from the first strike.
In the park, a woman died on the spot as a result of her injuries caused by shrapnel ammunition, AFP journalists noted.
In the residential area, a taxi driver was seriously injured.
“She had come to see me briefly and was about to leave. I said goodbye to him, I closed the door and a few seconds later, I heard the explosions, ”told AFP Lena, with whom the taxi driver was.
“I ran outside and saw her lying on the ground by the fence, bleeding. We called the ambulance […] It’s frightening. I was lucky to be inside with my daughter when it all happened,” the 46-year-old added.
In front of the entrance gate of the house where it was parked, the red taxi car is riddled with shards of ammunition, the wheels are punctured and the windows broken, AFP noted.
This is the second time this week that the city has been targeted by Russian strikes. On Tuesday, a shelling in the center left one dead and three injured and six residential buildings were damaged.
1er February, a bombardment killed three people there.
A city of about 150,000 people before the Russian invasion launched more than a year ago, Kramatorsk is near Bakhmout, the epicenter of fighting for months.
Regularly bombarded by the Russian army, Kramatorsk has played the role of a regional center since the occupation of the city of Donetsk in 2014 by Russian and pro-Russian forces.
In April 2022, a Russian missile hit the city’s train station, killing around 60 civilians who were trying to flee the area.
Russia has claimed the Donetsk region as its territory following so-called annexation referendums.
“Cancellation of proceedings”
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, during a telephone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kouleba, once again urged Kyiv and Moscow to resume peace talks “as soon as possible”.
“We have repeatedly stated that we are open to really serious proposals from the West and Ukraine on resolving the crisis by politico-diplomatic means,” the spokeswoman for Russian diplomacy said on Saturday. , Maria Zakharova.
“But the language of ultimatums is unacceptable to us”, she underlined, calling in particular for the “lifting of all illegitimate sanctions and the cancellation of all proceedings against Russia before international judicial authorities”.