Russian President Vladimir Putin has travelled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine.
Mr Putin walked with a noticable limp as he 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.
Under the UN’s genocide act, forcibly relocating children from one group to another is considered a form of ethnic cleansing.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world considered illegal.
Putin was accompanied on his visit to the peninsula by Mikhail Razvozhayev, governor of occupied Sevastopol, along with six bulky bodyguards evidently wearing bullet proof jackets.
Also present was Orthodox Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov, Putin’s personal confessor who has likened the dictator to Tsar Peter the Great.
Putin was seen close to other people in Sevastopol, unlike other appearances- notably on Friday- when he addressed oligarchs and business leaders from a distance.
The trip came amid claims in some quarters that Putin is suffering health problems and uses body doubles for some public appearances during the war he unleashed one year ago on Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula as well as the areas it has occupied since last year.
But Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he stressed on Friday the importance of holding Crimea.
‘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.’
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.
Russia seized Crimea in 2014, eight years before launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine says it will fight to expel Russia from Crimea and all other territory that Russia has occupied in the year-long war.
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