Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Crimea on an unannounced visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.
Putin was greeted on Saturday by the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, and was taken to see a new children’s centre and art school on what the official said was a surprise visit.
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“Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin knows how to surprise. In a good way,” Razvozhayev said on the messaging app Telegram.
“But Vladimir Vladimirovich came in person. Himself. Behind the wheel. Because on such a historic day, the president is always with Sevastopol and the people of Sevastopol,” the Moscow-appointed official said.
State media did not immediately broadcast any remarks from Putin, a day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) said it had issued an arrest warrant against him and accused him of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.
Putin has yet to comment publicly on the warrant. The Kremlin spokesman has called it “null and void” and said Russia finds the very issues raised by the ICC to be “outrageous and unacceptable”.
Russia seized Crimea in 2014, eight years before launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine says it will fight to expel Russia from Crimea and all other territory that Russia has occupied in the year-long war.
Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he stressed on Friday the importance of holding Crimea.
“Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do everything needed to fend off any threats.”
The ICC’s arrest warrant was the first issued against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The court, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.
The move was immediately dismissed by Moscow and welcomed by Ukraine as a major breakthrough. Its practical implications, however, could be limited because the chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely. Moscow does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals. Putin would face arrest, however, is he travels abroad to an ICC member country.