Russian President Vladimir Putin has travelled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine.
Mr Putin visited an art school and a children’s centre on Saturday, the day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader, accusing him of war crimes.
The court specifically accused him on Friday of bearing personal responsibility for the abduction of children from Ukraine during Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country, which started almost 13 months ago.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world considered illegal.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula as well as the areas it has occupied since last year.
Mr Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he stressed on Friday the importance of holding Crimea.
Statement by Prosecutor #KarimAAKhanKC on the issuance of arrest warrants against President Vladimir Putin and Ms Maria Lvova-Belova
Read more ⤵️ https://t.co/qGNPQrBV5O #Ukraine
— Int'l Criminal Court (@IntlCrimCourt) March 17, 2023
“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.”
Mr Putin took a plane to travel the 1,821 kilometres (1,132 miles) from Moscow to Sevastopol, where he took the wheel of the car that transported him around the city, according to Moscow-installed governor Mikhail Razvozhaev.
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, the commissioner for children’s rights in the office of the president of the Russian Federation.
The move was immediately dismissed by Moscow and welcomed by Ukraine as a major breakthrough.
Its practical implications, however, could be limited as the chances of Mr Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely because Moscow does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.
International Criminal Court issues warrant of arrest for Putin. The historic decision, from which historical responsibility will begin. pic.twitter.com/cUW0WbeGKJ
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 17, 2023
In Ukraine, authorities reported widespread Russian attacks between Friday night and Saturday morning. Writing on Telegram, the Ukrainian air force command said 11 out of 16 drones were shot down during attacks that targeted the capital, Kyiv, and the western Lviv province, among other areas.
Russia is still concentrating the bulk of its offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka and Shakhtarsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province.
Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said one person was killed and three wounded when 11 towns and villages in the province were shelled on Friday.