The President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, made this Saturday a surprise visit to Crimea, the Ukrainian province that Moscow conquered and annexed in 2014, in an internationally unrecognized action, to mark the ninth anniversary of the annexation day, according to several Russian media.
Alongside the governor of Sevastopol, Putin visited an arts center for children – the choice was seen as a kind of response to the International Criminal Court. The day before, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin and Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, saying it had sufficient evidence of their involvement in the forcible transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia or areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia (as is the case with Crimea).
This was the ICC’s first arrest warrant for officials of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. In October last year, the ICC also resumed an investigation into serious crimes committed in Afghanistan, which could include crimes committed by US forces.
Neither the USA nor Russia have ratified the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, but countries where crimes have been committed can apply for jurisdiction even if they are not signatories themselves, as is the case with Ukraine (Afghanistan is a signatory ). In doing so, they admit the investigation of crimes committed by any party to the conflict.
Putin has not yet made any public comment on the warrant, but the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered, as late as Friday, that it has no value, “including legal”. In practice, the warrant means that Putin will not be able to travel to countries that are signatories to the treaty without risking arrest.
It has been debated whether diplomatic immunity would apply as a sitting head of state, but in a previous case, in 2015, the Supreme Court of South Africa found that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir should be arrested while on a visit to the country. (Bashir ended up leaving the country before being arrested, even against a court decision).
In any case, Putin has not traveled since the day of the large-scale invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24, 2022 (the exception was a visit to the Belarusian ally in Minsk) and even before, with the pandemic, he rarely traveled.
The ICC verdict was, however, seen as having great symbolic importance for Ukraine, its Western allies, and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch.
No images were released of any of Putin’s comments during the visit to Crimea, only the Russian President standing next to the governor of the peninsula’s largest city during the visit. On the eve, Putin will have only commented that “security issues have the highest priority for Crimea and Sevastopol at this moment”.
This Saturday, the pro-Russian governor of the province, Mikhail Razvozhaiev, made an announcement on Telegram: “Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin knows how to surprise. In a good way,” he declared. “He is here in person”, he underlined, when only one video participation had been foreseen. “Because on such a historic date, the President is always with Sevastopol and the people of Sevastopol.”
From Europe, came statements reminding that the annexation was illegal and is not recognized, statements made, on the anniversary day, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland or Sweden, notes the broadcaster Euronews.
Cereal agreement extension
This Saturday it was also announced the extension of the agreement for the output of cereals from Ukraine through the Black Sea, an agreement sponsored by the United Nations and by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, although Ukraine has said that the agreement would be in force during the next 120 days and Russia said it was only 60 days.
The spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a copy of a letter from the permanent representation to the United Nations, saying that Moscow would not object to the agreement being extended for 60 days, until May 18, according to Reuters agency.
But he added that a new extension “will only be possible” after “concrete progress” in “the export of Russian food and fertilizers”, the British agency also cites. These exports were not specifically targeted by Western sanctions, imposed following the invasion and war in Ukraine, but Moscow says they are being harmed because of sanctions that affect payment systems, logistics and insurance.
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