KIEV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine, the day the International Criminal Court indicted the Russian leader for war crimes.
Putin visited an art school and a children’s center that are part of a project to build a historical park on the site of an old Greek colony, Russian state news agencies reported.
The ICC accused him on Friday of being personally responsible for the abduction of children from Ukraine during Russia’s full-scale invasion that began almost 13 months ago.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that much of the world condemned as illegal. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula, as well as from the territories it has occupied since last year.
Putin has no intention of giving up the Kremlin’s achievements. Instead, he stressed Friday the importance of preserving Crimea.
“Obviously, now security issues are paramount for Crimea and Sevastopol,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do everything necessary to prevent any threat.”
Putin flew 1,821 kilometers (1,132 miles) from Moscow to Sevastopol, where he took the wheel of a car that took him around the city, according to Moscow-based governor Mikhail Razvozhaev.
The ICC’s arrest warrant was the first to be issued against the head of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The court, located in The Hague, Netherlands, also ordered the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights of the Office of the President of the Russian Federation.
The move was immediately rejected by Moscow and hailed by Ukraine as a major step forward. However, the possibility of Putin being tried at the ICC is highly unlikely, as Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and does not extradite its citizens.
Despite the court action and its implications for Putin, the United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Saturday that a war deal that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia had been extended, though neither said how. long.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted that the deal had been extended by 120 days, the period that Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations wanted. However, the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, told the Russian news agency Tass that Moscow agreed to a 60-day extension.
Russia and Ukraine are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food commodities that developing countries depend on. Last year, they signed separate agreements with the UN and Turkey to allow food to leave blockaded Ukrainian ports.
Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilizers, which its deal was supposed to facilitate, are not reaching global markets. The country briefly withdrew from the accord in November before rejoining and agreeing to a 120-day extension.
Putin signed a law on Saturday that imposes stiff penalties for discrediting or spreading misleading information about volunteers or mercenaries fighting in Ukraine. The law provides for individuals to be fined 50,000 rubles ($660) for a first offense and up to 15 years in prison for repeat offenses.
The measure mirrors that adopted in the early days of the war for speaking negatively about soldiers or the Russian military in general.
Fighters from the private Russian military company Wagner Group, known for their fierce tactics, have played key roles in Ukraine, particularly in the campaign to capture the city of Bakhmut in Russia’s eastern Donetsk region.
Authorities in Ukraine reported widespread Russian attacks between Friday night and Saturday morning. Writing on Telegram, Ukraine’s Air Force Command said 11 of the 16 drones were shot down in strikes in the capital Kyiv and western Lviv province, among other areas.
Serhiy Popko, the head of the Kyiv city administration, said that Ukrainian air defenses shot down all the drones that were moving towards the capital. Lviv Governor Maksim Kozytskyi said on Saturday that three of the six drones had been shot down and the other three had hit the 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 Bryansk province of Russia, which also borders Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military said that between Friday morning and Saturday morning, Russian forces launched 34 airstrikes, one missile strike and 57 rounds of anti-aircraft fire. Falling debris reportedly hit Ukraine’s southern Kherson province, damaging seven homes and a kindergarten.
Russia continues to focus the bulk of its offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks on Bakhmut and other parts of Donetsk Oblast.
Regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko said one person was killed and three others wounded when 11 towns and villages in the province were shelled on Friday.
Further west, Russian missiles hit a residential area overnight in the city of Zaporizhia, the regional capital of the partially occupied province of the same name. Zaporozhye city council member Anatoly Kurtev said there were no casualties, but houses were damaged.
British military officials said on Saturday that Russia is likely to expand mandatory conscription to replenish its troops fighting in Ukraine. The UK Ministry of Defense noted in its latest analysis that MPs in the Russian Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, have introduced a bill to change the age for men to 21-30 from the current 18-27.
The ministry said many Russian men aged 18-21 are requesting exemption from military service because they are enrolled in higher education institutions. A wider age range will mean they have to serve eventually. British officials have said the law is likely to be passed and come into force in January 2024.
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