(Kyiv) Vladimir Putin traveled to Mariupol, the port city in southern Ukraine devastated by bombing and which has become the symbol of resistance against the invasion of the country, provoking the anger of Kyiv which denounced on Sunday “the cynicism” of the Russian president.
During this visit, his first to a conquered area since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine in February 2022, Vladimir Putin, who arrived by helicopter, toured the city at the wheel of a car, according to the Kremlin.
According to images broadcast by Russian television, the trip took place at night, Vladimir Putin being presented with street lighting and speaking with residents. “We pray for you”, assured him a resident, saying that the city was “a little piece of paradise”.
The Russian president made this night visit “as if he were a thief”, retorted the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.
“Putin visited the Ukrainian city of Mariupol sheltering behind the night. First, it’s safer. And also, the night allows him to emphasize what he wants to show, and keeps the city that his army totally destroyed and its few surviving inhabitants safe from prying eyes,” the ministry said. on Twitter.
“Criminals always return to the scene of their crimes… The murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and its graves. Cynicism and lack of remorse,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaïlo Podoliak wrote on Twitter.
Vladimir Putin also visited a reconstructed musical theater and followed the presentation of a report on the work of rebuilding the ruined city, according to the Kremlin.
“It was all very spontaneous,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “His trips to town weren’t planned either,” he said.
“Major war crime”
It was Mr. Putin’s first trip to this city besieged and bombarded for many weeks by Russian forces at the start of the invasion of Ukraine. The city finally fell in May 2022 after fierce resistance from Ukrainian soldiers entrenched, alongside civilians, in the underground passages of the huge Azovstal steelworks.
According to Kyiv, Mariupol was 90% destroyed and at least 20,000 people died there. The European Union had described the siege of the city as a “major war crime”.
This surprise visit is above all the first trip of the master of the Kremlin to the Donbass, in the conquered zone, since the start of the Russian offensive on February 24, 2022, which earned Moscow a series of severe international sanctions.
According to the Kremlin, Mr Putin also held a meeting in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, not far from the Ukrainian border, with Russian military officials, including the head of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
The Ukrainian City Council of Mariupol, a refugee in territory held by the Ukrainian authorities, castigated the visit to “the occupied city” by an “international criminal”.
If it took place at night, it was “probably so as not to see in daylight the city killed by its ‘liberation'”, added the Council.
The Ukrainian City Council referred to the arrest warrant issued Friday against Mr. Putin by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which accuses him of a war crime for “illegal deportation” of Ukrainian children.
“New era” with China
The Court has also attempted to verify whether the bombing and siege of Mariupol could constitute a crime against humanity, but it still lacks elements to reach such a conclusion, due to lack of access to the region.
The Kremlin has ruled “null and void” the arrest warrant of the ICC, which Moscow does not recognize the jurisdiction.
Mr. Putin had previously visited Crimea on Saturday, for the ninth anniversary of the annexation in 2014 of this Ukrainian peninsula by Russia. It was his first visit to Crimea since 2021.
Vladimir Putin’s visit to Russian-controlled Ukraine took place shortly before that, scheduled from Monday, of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Russia, supposed to open a “new era” in relations between two allies.
The Russian offensive in Ukraine has led the Kremlin to reorient itself towards China, against the backdrop of tensions with the West which supports Ukraine. In February, Beijing sought to impose itself as a mediator by issuing a document urging Moscow and Kyiv to hold peace talks.