EKremlin chief Vladimir Putin has visited the occupied territories of the neighboring country for the first time since the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine began. As the Kremlin announced on Sunday night, Putin had paid a “working visit” to the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, which had been destroyed in heavy fighting. After his arrival in a helicopter, he informed himself about the situation during a tour and also talked to residents of the city, the state agency Tass reported. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Chusnullin informed Putin about the status of the reconstruction work.
Russia launched a war of aggression against Ukraine on February 24 last year. Mariupol was besieged by Russian troops and only came under full Russian military control on May 20. The city was largely destroyed during the fighting.
Earlier, Putin traveled to the Black Sea peninsula to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. The Russian head of state paid an unannounced visit to the port city of Sevastopol, the home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Russian television reported on Saturday. There he attended an art school, accompanied by the local governor Mikhail Rasvozhayev, as shown by pictures from the Rossia-1 TV channel.
Putin also visited a children’s holiday camp, which is located at the excavation site of the ancient city of Chersonesus in what is now Sevastopol, and is intended to bring history closer to children.
“Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich knows how to surprise. In the truest sense of the word,” Razvozhayev explained in the online service Telegram. Actually, Putin wanted to take part in the inauguration of the art school for children via video conference. “But Vladimir Vladimirovich came in person.” Meanwhile, Ukraine reported new drone attacks on the west of the country, especially in the Lviv region.
It was the Russian president’s first visit to Crimea to mark the anniversary of the annexation since 2020. At the time, he presented medals to the construction workers of the Crimean Bridge, which runs from the Russian mainland to the annexed peninsula. In 2021 and 2022, Putin celebrated the celebrations in Moscow at a major concert.
According to media reports, Putin was last in Crimea in July 2020. Since the start of the war of aggression he ordered against Ukraine, the Russian president has generally avoided areas close to the front. At the end of 2022, he tested the navigability of the Crimean Bridge, which was badly damaged by an attack in the fall.
In 2014, after a controversial referendum that the government in Kiev and the West considered illegal, the Ukrainian peninsula was incorporated into Russia’s own territory in violation of international law. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced in January that he wanted to retake Crimea, “our country”, by force of arms. Moscow, on the other hand, keeps emphasizing that Crimea is Russian and refuses to negotiate about it.
After his visits to Ukraine, Putin met with the commanders of the Russian armed forces fighting in Ukraine, according to the Russian news agency TASS in Rostov-on-Don. Among other things, Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov reported to him on the situation at the fronts.
Activists loyal to the Kremlin protest in Moscow
In Moscow, on the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, pro-Kremlin activists demonstrated in front of the embassies of 20 countries classified as “unfriendly”, including Germany, the USA, Great Britain and Poland. They “support Ukraine (…) and actively supply deadly weapons to the Ukrainian regime,” declared the youth movement “Molodaja gwardia” (“Young Guard”).
The Ukrainian President and US President Joe Biden’s “plan” is to “take back Crimea using these deadly weapons,” movement leader Anton Demidov said outside the US embassy, where around 400 people were demonstrating. The movement put the number of demonstrators at a total of 5,000.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army announced that on Friday evening the Russian army attacked Ukraine with Iranian-made drones. Eleven of 16 drones were “destroyed”.
The region around Lviv in the extreme west of Ukraine was reportedly particularly targeted by the drones. “Around 01:00 in the morning, our region was attacked by Shahed-136 kamikaze drones,” said regional governor Maksim Kositski. Three drones were shot down and three others hit non-residential buildings, he added. There was damage, but no one was injured.
According to the Ukrainian authorities, three drones were also shot down in the Dnipro region in the southeast. There were no injuries there either, but “critical infrastructure” was hit in Novomoskovsk, there was a fire and four houses were destroyed and six others damaged.
However, drones aimed at the capital Kiev were all shot down by the Ukrainian air defense, the city administration said.
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