KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine on Saturday, the day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said Putin visited an art school and a children’s center, locations that appeared to have been chosen in response to the court's action.
The court specifically accused him Friday of bearing personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine during Russia's full-scale invasion of the neighboring country that started almost 13 months ago.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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 relinquishing the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he stressed 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.”
Putin took a plane to travel the 1,821 kilometers (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.
Along with the art school and children's center, Putin also toured Putin also visited the archaeological site at the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Chersonesos, according to Russian state media.
The ICC's arrest warrant was the first issued against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the U.N. 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 Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely because 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 night, the Ukrainian air force reported early Saturday.
Writing on Telegram, the air force command said that 11 out of 16 drones were shot down “in the central, western and eastern regions.” Among areas targeted were the capital, Kyiv, and the western Lviv province.
The head of the Kyiv city administration, Serhii Popko, said Ukrainian air defenses shot down all drones heading for the Ukrainian capital, while Lviv regional Gov. Maksym Kozytskyi said Saturday that three of six drones were shot down, with the other three hitting a district bordering Poland.
According to the Ukrainian air force, the attacks were carried out from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov and Russia’s Bryansk province, which borders Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military additionally said in its regular update Saturday morning that Russian forces over the previous 24 hours launched 34 airstrikes, one missile strike and 57 rounds of anti-aircraft fire. The Facebook update said that falling debris hit the southern Kherson province, damaging seven houses and a kindergarten.
According to the Ukrainian statement, Russia is still concentrating on offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka and Shakhtarsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province.
Regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko 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 Zaporizhzhia, the regional capital of the partially occupied province of the same name. No casualties were reported, but houses were damaged Anatoliy Kurtev of the Zaporizhzhia City Council said.
British military officials said Saturday that Russia is likely to widen conscription to replenish its troops fighting in Ukraine. In its latest intelligence update, the U.K. Defense Ministry said that deputies in the Russian Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, introduced a bill to change the draft ages for men to 21-30, from the current 18-27.
The ministry said that, at the moment, many men ages 18-21 claim exemptions from military service because they are enrolled in higher education institutions. The change would mean that they would eventually still have to serve. It said the law would likely pass and take effect in January 2024.
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The Associated Press