On Saturday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a surprise visit to Mariupol, a Ukrainian city occupied by the Russian army last May. It is the first time that Putin has gone to Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian forces during the invasion that began a year ago.
Putin was in Crimea – Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia in 2014 and then annexed in a referendum not recognized by much of the international community – to celebrate the ninth anniversary of the annexation. According to the Russian media, he took a helicopter late on Saturday evening to go to Mariupol, meet some officials and have them explain how the reconstruction of the city, largely destroyed during last spring’s bombings, is going. Putin also allegedly met with some top Russian military commanders stationed in Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city east of Mariupol.
The city of Mariupol had been one of Russia’s first military targets at the start of the invasion of Ukraine, and was seen as important to Russia’s plans because, by taking control of it, it would have been possible to link Crimea and the two breakaway Donetsk republics and Luhansk, allowing Russian forces to control a large united territory and deprive Ukraine of most of its access to the sea.