KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of Ukraine’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, a day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader charging him with war crimes.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Putin visited an art school and a children’s center, locations that appeared to be chosen in response to the court proceedings.
The court specifically accused him on Friday of being personally responsible for the abduction of children from Ukraine during Russia’s invasion of the neighboring country that began nearly 13 months ago.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world declared illegal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula, as well as the areas it has occupied since last year.
Putin has shown no intention of giving up the Kremlin’s advantage. Instead, he stressed the importance of holding onto Crimea on Friday.
“Obviously, security issues are now the top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do whatever it takes to fend off any threats.”
Putin took a plane to travel 1,821 kilometers (1,132 miles) from Moscow to Sevastopol, where he got behind the wheel of a car that ferried him around the city, according to Moscow-appointed governor Mikhail Razvozhayev.
In addition to the art school and the children’s center, Putin also visited Putin, and he also visited the archaeological site at the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Chersonesos, according to Russian state media.
The ICC warrant was the first issued against the leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The court based in The Hague in the Netherlands also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation.
Moscow immediately rejected the move — and Ukraine hailed it as a major breakthrough. Its practical implications, however, could be limited as the chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are unlikely as Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.
Widespread Russian attacks continued in Ukraine after the court’s announcement. Ukraine was attacked by 16 Russian drones on Friday evening, the Ukrainian Air Force reported early Saturday.
Writing on Telegram, the air force command said 11 of the 16 drones were shot down “in the central, western and eastern regions”. Among the areas targeted were the capital city of Kyiv and the western province of Lviv.
Kyiv city administration chief Serhii Popko said Ukraine’s air defenses had shot down all drones heading toward the Ukrainian capital, while Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyi said Saturday that three of the six drones had been shot down, while the other three hit the border district. with Poland.
According to the Ukrainian Air Force, the attacks were carried out from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov and the Russian province of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military further stated in its regular update on Saturday morning that Russian forces had carried out 34 airstrikes, one missile attack and 57 rounds of anti-aircraft fire in the previous 24 hours. A Facebook update said falling debris hit southern Kherson province, damaging seven houses and a kindergarten.
According to a Ukrainian statement, Russia continues to concentrate on offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka and Shakhtarsk in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province.
Regional Governor Pavlo Kirilenko said one person was killed and three wounded when 11 towns and villages in the province were shelled on Friday.
Further west, Russian rockets hit a residential area overnight in the city of Zaporizhia, the regional capital of the partially occupied province of the same name. No victims were reported, but houses were damaged, said Anatolij Kurtev from the city council of Zaporizhia.
British military officials said Saturday that Russia is likely to expand conscription to replenish its troops fighting in Ukraine. In its latest intelligence update, the UK Ministry of Defense said that members of the Russian Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, had introduced a bill to change the age for men to 21-30, from the current 18-27.
The Ministry announced that at the moment many men between the ages of 18 and 21 are seeking exemption from military service because they are enrolled in higher education institutions. The change would mean that they would still have to serve in the end. It is said that the law is likely to be passed and take effect in January 2024.
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