Putin travels to Crimea the day after a warrant was issued for his arrest

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula to Ukraine, the day after the International Criminal Court issued a an arrest warrant for the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes.

Putin visited an art school and a children’s center that are part of a project to develop a historic park on the site of a former Greek colony, Russian news agencies said.

The ICC accused him on Friday of being personally responsible for the kidnappings of Ukrainian children during the large-scale Russian invasion of the neighboring country that began nearly 13 months ago.

Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 2014, a move most countries around the world have denounced as illegal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula as well as areas it has occupied since last year.

Putin has shown no intention of giving up the gains of the Kremlin. Instead, he stressed on Friday the importance of holding Crimea.

“Obviously security issues are now a priority for Crimea and Sevastopol,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do whatever is necessary to repel any threat.”

Putin flew the 1,821 kilometers (1,132 miles) from Moscow to Sevastopol, where he got behind the wheel of the car that transported him to the city, according to Moscow-based Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev.

The ICC arrest warrant was the first issued against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, also issued an arrest warrant against Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation.

This decision was immediately rejected by Moscow – and welcomed by Ukraine as a major step forward. However, the chances of Putin being tried at the ICC are highly unlikely as Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.

Despite the court action and its implications for Putin, the United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Saturday that a wartime deal that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, Middle East and Asia had been extended, although none said how long.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted that the agreement had been renewed for 120 days, the period desired by Ukraine, Turkey and the UN. But Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian news agency Tass that Moscow had agreed to a 60-day extension.

Russia and Ukraine are the world’s two main suppliers of affordable wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food products that developing countries depend on. They signed separate agreements with the UN and Turkey last year to allow food to leave blocked Ukrainian ports.

Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilizers – which its deal was supposed to facilitate – are not reaching world markets. The country briefly withdrew from the agreement in November before rejoining and agreeing to a 120-day renewal.

Putin signed a law on Saturday that imposes heavy fines for discrediting or spreading misleading information about volunteers or mercenaries fighting in Ukraine. The law provides for an individual fine of 50,000 rubles ($660) for a first offense and up to 15 years in prison for a repeat offence.

The measure mirrors that adopted at the beginning of the war which applied to speak negatively of the soldiers or of the Russian army in general.

Fighters from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company known for its fierce tactics, have played a key role in Ukraine, particularly in Russia’s relentless campaign to seize the town of Bakhmut in the eastern province of Donetsk .

In Ukraine, authorities reported widespread Russian attacks between Friday evening and Saturday morning. Writing on Telegram, the Ukrainian Air Force command said 11 out of 16 drones were shot down in attacks that targeted the capital, Kyiv, and the western province of Lviv, among others.

Kyiv city administration chief Serhii Popko said Ukrainian air defenses shot down all drones heading towards the capital. Lviv Governor Maksym Kozytskyi said on Saturday that three of the six drones were shot down, with the other three hitting a district bordering Poland.

According to the Ukrainian Air Force, the attacks were carried out from the eastern coast of the Sea of ​​Azov and the Russian province of Bryansk, which also borders Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military reported that between Friday morning and Saturday morning, Russian forces launched 34 airstrikes, one missile strike and 57 anti-aircraft fire. The falling debris hit Kherson province in southern Ukraine, damaging seven houses and a kindergarten.

Russia still concentrates the bulk of its offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing its attacks on Bakhmut and other parts of Donetsk province.

Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said one person was killed and three injured when 11 towns and villages in the province were shelled on Friday.

Further west, Russian rockets hit a residential area overnight in the city of Zaporizhzhia, the regional capital of the partially occupied province of the same name. No casualties were reported, but houses were damaged, said Anatoliy Kurtev from the Zaporizhzhia City Council.

British military officials said on Saturday that Russia was likely to extend compulsory conscription to replenish its troops fighting in Ukraine. The UK Ministry of Defense said in its latest analysis that MPs in the Russian Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, have introduced a bill to change the draft age for men to 21-30, against 18-27 currently.

The ministry said many Russian men between the ages of 18 and 21 seek exemptions from military service because they are enrolled in higher education institutions. The wider age range would mean they would eventually have to serve. UK officials have said the law is likely to pass and come into force in January 2024.

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