MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin of Russia travelled to Mariupol, his second surprise visit to Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine this weekend, and a defiant gesture soon after an international court had issued a warrant for his arrest.
He flew by helicopter from Crimea and then toured Mariupol, in Donetsk province in the east, according to state news outlet Tass on Sunday.
Mariupol was the site of one of the fiercest battles since Russia invaded Ukraine last year. The report from Tass referred to the stop as “a working trip” for Mr Putin to review construction and restoration work in the city, which was once home to 500,000 people and Europe’s largest steel plant.
It was his second unannounced trip of the weekend to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, and the closest he has been to the front lines since the invasion in February 2022.
His trip on Saturday to Crimea was timed to coincide with the ninth anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula.
The two high-profile visits were also defiant gestures from the Kremlin less than 48 hours after an international court issued a warrant for his arrest. The warrant claims that he bore individual criminal responsibility for the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children that has taken place since Russia’s invasion.
Since the start of winter, both sides have been locked in a grinding battle for land in the east where the front line has barely moved, with each army running short of ammunition and experiencing mounting casualties.
Mr Putin has shown no signs of easing up or heading to the negotiating table. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has vowed to recapture all the territory that Russia grabbed, including Crimea.
So far, Ukraine has regained about half of that territory. And it has persuaded several allies in Nato to provide their most valuable weapons, including tanks, missiles, anti-missile systems and – just last week – fighter jets.
As the war enters its second year, Mr Putin has found himself further isolated, with a growing list of sanctions and great hurdles to selling his nation’s gas and oil, which finance the war.
It has prompted him to turn to Iran for weapons, including drones and missiles, and to Belarus, where he staged troops for last year’s invasion and is doing the same for a new offensive.
Mr Putin was just in Belarus in December to visit President Alexander Lukashenko.
On Monday, he will host Moscow’s most important ally, China’s leader Xi Jinping.
China has said the visit offers Beijing an opportunity to push Mr Putin to peace talks and has hinted that a call with Mr Zelensky could follow.
But the United States has argued that China is not an honest broker and is providing Russia with much-needed supplies for the war, accusations that Beijing has denied and that have helped drive relations between the two powers to the lowest in decades.
For months last year, Russia poured thousands of troops into Mariupol and indiscriminately bombarded the city.
Outnumbered and with fewer and less sophisticated weapons, Ukraine’s military hung on for weeks, eventually taking shelter in the city’s steel factory. Finally in May, Ukrainian forces retreated, leaving the devastated city in Russian control. NYTIMES