Putin visits occupied Crimea, a day after war crimes sanctions
President Vladimir V. Putin made a surprise visit to occupied Crimea to mark the 9th anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula, state media reported on Saturday, a gesture of defiance. just a day after an international court ordered his arrest.
Mr. Putin was scheduled to attend the ceremonies in Crimea via video link, but instead went to the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, local officials said. State media carried pictures of Putin wearing a sweater visiting an art school for children and talking with Mikhail Razvozhaev, the governor of Sevastopol.
“On such a historic day, the president is always with Sevastopol and the people of Sevastopol,” Razvozhaev wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “Our country has an incredible leader.”
The visit signals the Kremlin’s determination to resume business as usual, less than 24 hours after the International Criminal Court accused Putin of war crimes and issued an arrest warrant for him. The court said he was criminally responsible for the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children, thousands of whom have been sent to Russia since his all-out invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago. Russian officials dismissed the court’s announcement as nonsense and vowed not to cooperate.
Images of Mr. Putin walking freely in Crimea – which was seized by Russian troops in 2014 was the premise for his all-out invasion of Ukraine last February – and decided to visit a school for the shows children how an arrest warrant cannot change his behavior, even if it punctures the aura of impunity that surrounds him.
But Russia – which is expected to host China’s leader, Xi Jinping, starting his state visit on Monday – also agreed on Saturday to extend an agreement allowing grain shipments. leaving Ukraine, one of the few examples of cooperation between the warring parties since Mr. Putin’s all-out invasion of Ukraine.
The United Nations and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who helped broker the initial deal, announced a last-minute extension of the agreement, allowing Ukrainian grain ships to pass through the blockade. of the Russian navy in the Black Sea and help alleviate global food shortages and limit price increases.
Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said on Twitter that the deal had been extended by 120 days, thanking the United Nations and Turkey for mediating.
The grain deal was set to expire late Saturday and early last week, Russia said it would agree to a 60-day extension because its own food and fertilizer exports are being hampered by the order. punishment. Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations have pushed for a 120-day extension, in line with the original agreement in July and with a further extension in November.
The agreement allows ships carrying grain and fertilizer from Ukraine to safely pass through Turkish waters, where they are inspected by a joint team of officials from Turkey, the United Nations, Ukraine and Russia.
“This agreement, which has supplied 25 million tons of grain to the world market with more than 800 ships to date, is of vital importance for the stability of the global food supply,” Erdogan said. national television.
Although the deal is a rare diplomatic breakthrough between Ukraine and Russia since the war began, Moscow has held the agreement hostage at various points. In late October, the Kremlin abruptly suspended its participation after an attack on its warships in the port of Sevastopol, but it rejoined a few days later.
Ukraine is a top exporter of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower, but its shipments plummeted after the war began. Exports from Russia, another major supplier, also fell.
Negotiations on extending the agreement began on Monday in Geneva. The previous extension deal, in November, was reached with days to spare.
The grain passes through the Black Sea, where Russia’s powerful naval fleet confronts three NATO members – Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria – that share the same coastline. A US surveillance drone was brought down into the sea this week after being attacked by a Russian warplane, US officials said. It was the first known physical contact between the Russian and American militaries since the war began.
In recent months, Russian warships in the Black Sea have fired cruise missiles at Ukrainian targets sometimes hundreds of miles away, hitting towns and cities and damaging infrastructure. energy layer of this country.
On Monday, Putin is expected to host Xi, China’s top leader, in Russia to begin a state visit. The trip by Mr. Xi, whose government did not comment on the ICC order, highlights how Russia maintains ties with powerful allies that have mitigated the effects of Western isolation and diplomatic sanctions. West.
US officials say that China has so far refrained from providing military aid to Russia for use in Ukraine. US officials said President Biden emphasized to Mr Xi that any such move would have “serious consequences” for US-China relations.
Top U.S. military officials held a phone call on Friday with Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, who gave “an update on battlefield conditions and expressed appreciation for the United States’ continued provision of security assistance,” according to a White House summary of the call.
On Saturday, Putin also issued more draconian punishments aimed at silencing critics of the war in Russia, signing a law criminalizing speaking out against anyone fighting in Ukraine, including including volunteers and others “facilitating the missions of the Russian Armed Forces.” The new law is intended to stem criticism of the militants, including those from the private military firm Wagner, which was at the forefront of Russia’s bloody months-long effort to capture the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut .
The move comes as Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner, said on the messaging app Telegram that his team plans to register about 30,000 new fighters by mid-May, from recruitment centers designated established in dozens of cities. Mr. Prigozhin, who had previously suggested that Wagner could end combat operations, offered no evidence to support his claim, which comes after weeks of complaints that the Russian Defense Ministry denied vital support to his group, including ammunition.
Ivan Nechepurenko And Nick Cumming-Bruce contribution report.