Putin visits Crimea on annexation anniversary after ICC arrest warrant
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made an unannounced visit to Crimea, which joined Russia in a 2014 referendum, to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula's declared independence from Ukraine.
Putin arrived in Crimea on Saturday, a day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against him on war crime accusations.
The Russian president was greeted by Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Governor of the Sevastopol administrative region, and was taken to see a new children's center and an art school.
“Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin knows how to surprise. In a good way,” Razvozhayev said on the popular Telegram messaging application.
“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,” he added.
Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014, and formally applied to fall under Russian sovereignty following a referendum that had been declared illegal by Kiev. Moscow later annexed the region.
Since then, relations between Ukraine and Russia have been at odds. The United States and the European Union backed Kiev and refused to recognize the referendum results, later imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he has stressed the importance of holding Crimea.
“Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said on Friday, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do everything needed to fend off any threats.”
Putin’s trip came a day after the ICC issued an arrest warrant over the Russian president’s alleged involvement in the unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.
The Hague-based court also issued a warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the office of the Russian president, on the same charges.
Russia has repeatedly rejected accusations of committing war crimes by its forces during the year-long war in Ukraine.