Putin: the world’s most wanted man set to meet China’s new ‘dealmaker’
Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday travelled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine — 24 hours after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader, accusing him of war crimes.
utin visited an art school and a children’s centre that are part of a project to develop a historical park on the site of an ancient Greek colony.
The ICC accused him on Friday of bearing personal responsibility for abducting children from Ukraine during Russia’s invasion of its neighbour that started almost 13 months ago.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 — a move that most of the world denounced as illegal. Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, on Friday he stressed the importance of holding Crimea.
“Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city, which is also home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet. “We will do everything needed to fend off any threats.”
Putin took a plane to travel the 1,821km from Moscow to Sevastopol, where he took the wheel of the car that transported him around the city.
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, in the Netherlands, also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights in.
The move was immediately dismissed by Moscow — and welcomed by Ukraine as a major breakthrough. However, the chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely, as Moscow does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction, nor does it extradite its nationals.
The chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely
Despite the court’s action and its implication’s for Putin, the UN and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced yesterday that a wartime deal that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia was extended, though neither said for how long.
Ukrainian deputy prime minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted that the deal had been renewed for 120 days, the period that Ukraine, Turkey and the UN wanted. But Russia said that Moscow agreed to a 60-day extension.
Russia and Ukraine are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products that developing nations depend on. Last year they signed separate agreements with the UN and Turkey, to allow food to leave Ukraine’s blockaded ports.
Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilisers — which its deal was supposed to facilitate — are not getting to global markets. The country briefly pulled out of the agreement in November before rejoining and agreeing to a 120-day renewal.
In Ukraine, authorities reported widespread Russian attacks between Friday night and yesterday morning. Writing on Telegram, the Ukrainian air force command said 11 out of 16 drones were shot down during attacks that targeted Kyiv and the western Lviv province, among other areas.
The head of the Kyiv city administration said Ukraine shot down all drones heading for the capital. The Lviv governor said three of six drones were shot down, with the other three hitting a district that borders 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 also borders Ukraine.
Russia is still concentrating the bulk of its offensive operations on Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka and Shakhtarsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province.
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.
Russia is to increase the size of its army from 1.15 million to 1.5 million
Meanwhile, British security sources say the Kremlin intends to change the age range of army conscripts, to increase the number of combat soldiers to 1.5 million.
The age bracket for conscription will be moved from 17-27 to 21-30 in order to close a loophole used by students to avoid conscription, according to the British ministry of defence.
“Many 18-21 year old men currently claim exemption from the draft due to being in higher education,” it said.
The Russian parliament introduced a law to cover the changes earlier this week and it is “likely to be passed” by the start of next year.
Under Russian law, conscripts are banned from deploying overseas — but by annexing Crimea in 2014, and four more Ukrainian provinces last year, Putin can claim they are still on Russian soil.
Russia’s ministry of defence has said it wants to increase the size of combat personnel under its command from 1.15 million to 1.5 million.
In September, Putin ordered the first mobilisation in Russia since World War II, in order to shore up his front line, which was in danger of collapse. That move called up 325,000 men — many of whom were sent straight to Ukraine to fight, without proper equipment or training.
Conscription is carried out twice a year in Russia, recruiting around 125,000 men for 12 months through each draft. But it is treated as a sort of finishing school. Conscripts are there to serve — not to be thrown into battle.
The Wagner mercenary group has also switched to openly recruiting in 42 cities across Russia. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner chief, said he hoped to recruit an extra 30,000 fighters by May.
Meanwhile, three senior US security officials held a video call with a group of their Ukrainian counterparts yesterday to discuss military aid to Kyiv.
“We discussed the further provision of necessary assistance to our country — in particular vehicles, weapons and ammunition,” said Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff. Yermak was joined in the meeting by Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, top general Valeriy Zaluzhny, and several other senior commanders.
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, top military commander Mark Milley, and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan represented the other side.
The meeting took place as Kyiv seeks to gather sufficient supplies of arms from its Western backers, of which the US has been the most significant, to mount a counter-offensive and try to take back territory captured by Moscow last year.
Yermak added that Zelensky joined the meeting at the end to give his views on the liberation of Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia since its invasion nearly 13 months ago.
Chinese president Xi Jinping’s will meet Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week, in a move which highlights China’s aspirations for a greater role on the world stage.
It follows China’s brokering of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic relations, and its release of what it calls a “peace plan” for Ukraine.