‘Criminal always returns to the crime scene’: Kyiv blasts Putin’s visit to Russian-occupied Mariupol

‘Criminal always returns to the crime scene’: Kyiv blasts Putin’s visit to Russian-occupied Mariupol

A day after being accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, scene of some of the worst devastation of his year-old invasion.

State television showed extended footage of Putin being shown around the city on Saturday night, meeting rehoused residents and being briefed on reconstruction efforts by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin.

The port city of Mariupol became known around the world as a byword for death and destruction as much of it was reduced to ruins in the first months of the war, eventually falling to Russian forces in May.

Hundreds were killed in the bombing of a theatre where families with children were sheltering.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE) said Russia’s early bombing of a maternity hospital in the city was a war crime. Moscow denied that and has said since it invaded on Feb. 24 last year that it does not target civilians.

PHOTOS | Mariupol under Russian occupation: 

Putin’s visit had the air of a gesture of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest on Friday, accusing him of the war crime of deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.

He has not publicly commented on the move, but his spokesman said it was legally “null and void” and that Russia found the very questions raised by the ICC to be “outrageous and unacceptable.”

‘Criminal always returns to the crime scene’

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the visit to the devastated city was tantamount to a perpetrator returning to the scene of the crime.

“The criminal always returns to the crime scene,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

“As the civilized world announces the arrest of the ‘war director’ (VV Putin) in case of crossing its borders, the murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city & graves. Cynicism & lack of remorse.”

WATCH | Russian state television shows Putin driving streets of occupied Mariupol: 

Putin visits occupied Ukraine for 1st time since invasion

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited occupied Ukraine for the first time since launching his full scale invasion. Western analysts say it sends a message ahead of a pivotal visit to to Moscow from China’s president Xi Jinping.

The visit to Mariupol was the first Putin has made to the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine’s Donbas region — which includes the Donetsk province, where Mariupol is located — since the war started, and the closest he has come to the front lines.

Putin moved in September to annex Donetsk and three other largely Russian occupied provinces — Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia — in an action rejected as illegal by most countries at the United Nations General Assembly.

While Zelenskyy has made a number of trips to the battlefield to boost the morale of his troops and talk strategy, Putin has largely remained inside the Kremlin while running what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Kyiv and its allies say the invasion is an imperialistic land grab that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people in Ukraine.

‘Piece of heaven’

Putin’s trip to Mariupol took place in darkness. State TV showed him at the wheel of a car, driving through the city in the company of his deputy prime minister, Khusnullin, and being briefed in detail on the rebuilding of housing, bridges, hospitals, transport routes and a concert hall.

State media said he visited a new residential neighbourhood that had been built by Russian military with the first people moving in last September.

“Do you live here? Do you like it?” Putin was shown asking residents in the Nevsky district of Mariupol.

People stand outside an apartment complex.
Putin listens to local residents as he visits Mariupol this weekend. (Kremlin.ru/Reuters)

“Very much. It’s a little piece of heaven that we have here now,” a woman replied, clasping her hands and thanking Putin for “the victory.”

Residents have been “actively” returning, Khusnullin told Putin. Mariupol had a population of half a million people before the war and was home to the Azovstal steel plant, one of Europe’s largest, where Ukrainian fighters held out for weeks in underground tunnels and bunkers before being forced to surrender.

“The downtown has been badly damaged,” Khusnullin said. “We want to finish [reconstruction] of the centre by the end of the year, at least the facade part. The centre is very beautiful.”

There was no immediate reaction to the visit from the Ukrainian government.

Putin, Xi tout Russia-China ties in op-eds

In an article for a Chinese newspaper published on the Kremlin website late Sunday Putin said he had high hopes for Monday’s visit to Moscow by his “good old friend” and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, with whom he signed a “no limits” strategic partnership last year.

He also welcomed China’s willingness to mediate in the conflict.

“We are grateful for the balanced line of [China] in connection with the events taking place in Ukraine, for understanding their background and true causes. We welcome China’s willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the crisis,” Putin said.

WATCH | What we know about Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow: 

What we know about Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow next week

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit comes after China last month published a 12-point plan for ‘a political resolution of the Ukraine crisis’ — and after China’s foreign minister, in a rare phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday, urged negotiations with Moscow.

Xi, meanwhile, called for “pragmatism” on Ukraine in an article published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a daily published by the Russian government, according to Reuters’ translation from Russian.

He has been seeking to present China as a global peace maker and project it as a responsible great power. China has publicly remained neutral in the Ukraine conflict, while criticizing Western sanctions against Russia and reaffirming its close ties with Moscow.

The United States and NATO have recently accused China of considering supplying arms to Russia and warned Beijing against such a move. China has dismissed the accusations.

WATCH | U.S. warns China not to give weapons to Russia: 

U.S. warns China not to give weapons to Russia

The U.S. is warning China not to send weapons to Russia to bolster its war in Ukraine amid concerns U.S.-China tensions could spark another Cold War.

A peaceful resolution to the situation in Ukraine, Xi wrote, would also “ensure the stability of global production and supply chains.”

He called for a “rational way” out of the crisis, which would be “found if everyone is guided by the concept of common, comprehensive, joint and sustainable security, and continue dialogue and consultations in an equal, prudent and pragmatic manner.”

Xi said that his trip to Russia is aimed at strengthening the friendship between the two countries, “an all-encompassing partnership and strategic interaction,” in a world threatened by “acts of hegemony, despotism and bullying.

“There is no universal model of government and there is no world order where the decisive word belongs to a single country,” Xi wrote. “Global solidarity and peace without splits and upheavals is in the common interests of all mankind.”