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Faced with ICC arrest warrant, Russia’s Putin visits annexed Crimea

KYIV, 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. against the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes.

Putin visited an art school and a children’s center that are part of a project to develop a historical park on the site of a former Greek colony, Russian state news agencies said.

The ICC charged him on Friday with personal responsibility for the abductions of Ukrainian children during Russia’s full-scale 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 denounced as illegal. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula, as well as from areas it has occupied since last year.

Putin has shown no intention of giving up the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he stressed on Friday the importance of holding Crimea.

“Obviously, security issues are top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do everything necessary to defend ourselves against any threat.”

Putin took a plane to travel the 1,132 miles from Moscow to Sevastopol, where he took the wheel of the car that ferried him around the city, according to Moscow-based governor Mikhail Razvozhaev.

The ICC arrest warrant was the first issued against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The court, based in The Hague, 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.

Firefighters extinguish a fire after shelling that Russian officials in Donetsk say was carried out by Ukrainian forces in Khartsyzsk, in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo /Alexey Alexandrov)

The move was immediately rejected by Moscow, and welcomed by Ukraine as a breakthrough. However, the chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its citizens.

Despite the court action and its implications for Putin, the United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Saturday that a wartime deal allowing the flow of grain from Ukraine to countries in Africa had been extended. , Middle East and Asia, although no one said how. long.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted that the agreement had been renewed for 120 days, the period Ukraine, Turkey and the UN wanted. But Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russia’s Tass news agency that Moscow has agreed to a 60-day extension.

Russia and Ukraine are major global suppliers of affordable wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food products on which developing countries depend. They signed separate agreements with the UN and Turkey last year to allow food to leave Ukraine’s blocked ports.

Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilizer, which its deal was supposed to facilitate, are not reaching global markets. The country briefly withdrew from the deal in November before coming back together and agreeing to a 120-day renewal.

Putin signed a law on Saturday imposing heavy fines for discrediting or spreading misleading information about volunteers or mercenaries fighting in Ukraine. The law requires individuals to be fined 50,000 rubles ($660) for the first offense and up to 15 years in prison for repeated offenses.

The measure mirrors one passed in the early days of the war that applied to speaking negatively about soldiers or the Russian military in general.

Fighters from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company known for its ferocious tactics, have taken key roles in Ukraine, particularly in Russia’s tough campaign to seize the city of Bakhmut in the eastern province of Donetsk.

Ukrainian soldiers sign a shell while preparing a self-propelled howitzer "Acacia" for shooting near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Friday, March 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Roman Chop)

In Ukraine, authorities reported widespread Russian attacks between Friday night and Saturday morning. Writing on Telegram, the Ukrainian air force command said that 11 of the 16 drones were shot down during strikes targeting the capital Kiev and the western province of Lviv, among other areas.

Kiev city administration head Serhii Popko said Ukrainian air defenses shot down all drones heading for the capital. Lviv Governor Maksym Kozytskyi said on Saturday that three of the six drones were shot down, with the other three hitting a district bordering Poland.

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According to the Ukrainian air force, the attacks were carried out from the eastern coast of the Azov Sea and the Russian province of Bryansk, which also borders Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military reported that between Friday morning and Saturday morning, Russian forces launched 34 airstrikes, one missile attack, and 57 rounds of flak. He said falling debris hit the southern Ukraine’s Kherson province, damaging seven houses and a kindergarten.

Russia continues to focus most of its offensive operations on Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks on Bakhmut and other parts of the 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.

Further west, Russian rockets struck 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, said Anatoliy Kurtev of the Zaporizhzhia City Council.

British military officials said on Saturday that Russia is likely to extend conscription to replenish its troops fighting in Ukraine. The UK Ministry of Defense said in its latest analysis that members of the Russian Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, have tabled a bill to change the conscription age for men from 18-27 to 21-30. .

The ministry said that many Russian men between the ages of 18 and 21 claim exemptions from military service because they are enrolled in higher education institutions. The wider age range would mean that they would eventually have to serve. British officials said the law would likely be passed and take effect in January 2024.

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