Putin’s Visit to Occupied Ukraine Shows All Is Not Well

Mar 20, 2023

Russian bunker monkey Vladimir Putin made an unannounced visit to occupied Ukraine over the weekend—his first since he launched a full-scale invasion of his neighboring country—as he faces a growing number of setbacks both on the battlefield and on the international stage.

A day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader for war crimes, citing the unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children, the Kremlin announced Putin’s “spontaneous” visit to the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, and Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula he annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The visit sparked condemnation from Ukraine and its allies and has been viewed as a symbolic gesture of defiance in light of the ICC’s findings, and as an attempt by Putin to take away the focus from his struggling invasion.

Olga Lautman, non-resident senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and a senior investigative researcher at the Institute for European Integrity, said it was no surprise that Putin immediately visited the occupied regions.

“There’s a lot of tension inside of Russia building,” Lautman told Newsweek, noting that after Putin launched a partial mobilization last September amid reports men were being used as “cannon fodder” on the front line, it has become much harder for him to sell the war to his population.

“He started with a three-day ‘special military operation’ and we are now over a year, Russia has made no gains.”

Russia has been desperate to capture the industrial city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, pouring troops into the area since July in an attempt to secure the first major battlefield gain since the summer of 2022.

“The casualties are extremely high, and then on top of it, the news came out [about Putin’s ICC arrest warrant],” said Lautman.

Putin wanted to attempt to build support inside of Russia by visiting Crimea and Mariupol, she said.

“And at the same time, he visited the crime scene [of Mariupol]. So he basically is signaling to Russians that Mariupol is their territory, which does not belong to Ukraine, and know that he is free to visit.”

First Visit for Putin

Lautman pointed out the significance of it being the first time that Putin has visited Ukraine since his full-scale invasion began.

“[Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky make multiple trips to the front lines to show support for his military, whereas Putin has remained in hiding,” she said. “It was done to increase support and rally people inside of Russia around this war, and to distract from the ICC warrant.”

Keir Giles, a Russia expert and a senior consulting fellow at the Chatham House think tank, told Newsweek the visits were made by Putin because “Russia needs to sell its people a story of success in the war.”

“That includes letting them cling on to the idea that Russia is a force for good in the cities it has destroyed,” he said. “That’s why a visit by Putin or one of his doubles to Mariupol had to take [place] in the same new block of flats that Russian state television has featured multiple times, rather than the scenes of devastation surrounding them.”

The ICC’s conclusion on Friday that Putin committed war crimes in his full-scale invasion of Ukraine marked the first time an arrest warrant has been issued against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, said on Friday that his office had identified the deportation of “at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children’s care homes.”

It is uncertain how many children have been taken forcibly to Russia. However, in February, a report from the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab alleged that in the past year at least 6,000 children from Ukraine had been sent to Russian “re-education” camps.

Moscow doesn’t recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals, therefore it’s highly unlikely that Putin will face a trial at the ICC.

The issuance of the warrant obliges the court’s 123 member states to arrest the individual concerned and transfer them to the ICC in The Hague should they step foot on their territory.

The Kremlin said the ICC’s decisions “have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view.”

“Russia is not a party to the Rome statute of the international criminal court and bears no obligations under it,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel.

Lautman said she believes, however, that the arrest warrant will be a turning point in Russia’s relations with the West, and that there will be “no going back” as long as Putin is in power.

“It’s complete chaos of what is unfolding, and basically the start a collapse failed state,” she said. “[For] people surrounding Putin, this ICC arrest warrant was extremely necessary because it signals that there is no turning back to going back to normal with Russia.”

Putin’s arrest warrant “seals the fate of Russia” because now, no country can push for negotiations in the Ukraine war, said Lautman. “Basically, they would be negotiating with a war criminal, or advocating for the negotiations with a war criminal, who has an arrest warrant.”

“That definitely signals to all the powerful people inside of Russia that Putin has now become a liability because there is no path forward with the West in the future, as long as Putin is in power.”

One comment

Enter comments here: