Turkey announced an extension of a deal that allowed it to export grain to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, but Kiev and Moscow disagreed on the length of the extension.
Putin’s surprise trip to Crimea was his first visit to the peninsula since sending troops into Ukraine on February 24 last year, apart from when he crossed the bridge connecting the region to mainland Russia last December.
Russian state TV showed him visiting the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, accompanied by local Moscow-appointed governor Mikhail Razvozayev.
Razvozhayev said on the messaging app Telegram that Putin was expected to attend the opening of a children’s art school by video link.
“But Vladimir Vladimirovich came personally. Himself. Behind the wheel. Because on such a historic day, the president is always with Sevastopol and the people of Sevastopol,” he said.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 following a referendum that was not recognized by Kiev and the international community.
Speaking at the Davos Forum in January, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine aimed to take back Crimea, “our land”. Moscow has refused to include it in potential peace talks.
– ‘Void’ ICC warrant – Putin’s visit comes a day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant over the “deportation” of Ukrainian children.
Kiev says more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the conflict began last year, many of them held in institutions and foster homes.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told AFP on Friday that Putin could be arrested if he sets foot in any of the court’s more than 120 member states.
The 70-year-old Russian leader has yet to publicly comment on the warrant.
But the Kremlin rejected the warrant’s legal validity, arguing that since Russia did not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction, it was “void”.
The Hague-based court’s ruling comes ahead of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow next week to sign agreements that usher in a new era of ties. Xi will be in Russia from Monday to Wednesday.
China, a major Russian ally, has sought to position itself as a neutral party, urging Moscow and Kiev to resolve the conflict through talks.
But Western leaders have repeatedly criticized Beijing for failing to condemn Russia’s invasion, accusing it of providing diplomatic cover to Moscow for its campaign.
– Grain deal extended – In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said both sides have agreed to extend the deal, allowing Ukraine, a major grain exporter, to resume shipments.
But there was disagreement over the terms.
Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said the deal had been extended for 120 days, but a spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow had agreed to a 60-day extension.
Ukraine’s Black Sea ports were blocked by warships after Russia sent troops last year.
The deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022 – and signed by Kiev and Moscow – allowed safe passage of exports. In November it was extended for 120 days.
Fighting on the ground is concentrated in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, specifically the city of Bakhmut.
Regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko, who accused Moscow of using cluster bombs, said Russian strikes hit the nearby town of Kramatorsk on Saturday, killing two people and wounding 10.
He said Russian forces targeted a park and damaged “a dozen residential buildings”.
AFP reporters in Kramatorsk heard about 10 explosions almost simultaneously and saw smoke rising above a park in the southern part of the city just before 4:00 pm local time (1400 GMT).
He saw that a woman died on the spot from her wounds.