KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the occupied port city of Mariupol, Russian state news agencies reported Sunday, his first trip to the Ukrainian territory that Moscow illegally annexed in September.
Earlier, on Saturday, Putin traveled to Crimea, a short distance southwest of Mariupol, to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine. Mariupol became a worldwide symbol of defiance after outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian forces held out in a steel mill there for nearly three months before Moscow finally took control of it in May.
The visits, during which he was shown chatting with local residents in Mariupol and visiting an art school and a children’s center in Crimea, were a show of defiance by the Russian leader two days after a court issued a warrant for his arrest on war crimes charges. Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which deepened his international isolation despite the unlikelihood of him facing trial anytime soon.
The trip also came ahead of a planned visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, expected to provide a major diplomatic boost to Putin in his confrontation with the West.
Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then drove himself around the city’s “memorial sites,” concert hall and coastline, Russian news reports said, without specifying exactly when the visit took place. The state Rossiya 24 channel on Sunday showed Putin chatting with locals outside what looked like a newly built residential complex, and being shown around one of the apartments.
Following his trip to Mariupol, Putin met with Russian military leaders and troops at a command post in Rostov-on-Don, a southern Russian city some 180 kilometers further east, Russian state media reported.
The Rossiya 24 channel on Sunday showed Putin being greeted by Moscow’s top officer in charge of the war in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov, and led to room where Gerasimov’s second-in-command and a group of men in uniform were waiting. It was not possible to independently confirm the circumstances in which the video was filmed.
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