Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to Crimea on Saturday, to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation.
The trip comes the day after the International Criminal Court’ issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes.
Putin visited an art school and a children’s center, locations that appeared to have been chosen in response to the court’s action on Friday.
The court specifically accused him of bearing personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine during Russia’s full-scale invasion of the neighboring country that started almost 13 months ago.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula as well as the areas it has occupied since last year.
Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he stressed Friday the importance of holding Crimea.
“Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do everything needed to fend off any threats.”
Ukrainian strikes on Crimea, and Sevestopol
Sevastopol has been a target of regular Ukrainian strikes since the start of the Russian invasion a year ago. In January, Russian authorities said air defences shot down ten Ukrainian drones out to sea, which were heading for Sevastopol. And in October last year, a “massive” attack involving air and sea drones reportedly targeted the Black Sea Fleet, with the Russians claiming at the time it did no damage.
Also in October, a powerful blast hit the road-and-rail bridge linking Russia and the Crimean peninsula, hitting a crucial supply route for Russian forces in Ukraine.
And in July last year a drone attack ahead of Russia’s Navy Day celebrations left five injured in Sevastopol, forcing authorities to cancel events.
In April, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet — the Moskva — was sunk by Ukrainian forces in a major blow to Moscow.
Europe highlights Crimea anniversary
European countries have been highlighting the anniversary on Saturday, showing their support for the people of Ukraine.
“Russia’s continued aggression violates international law and UN Charter” wrote the Finnish foreign ministry.
“Finland does not recognise illegal annexation by Russia. We support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and efforts to restore it.”
There was a similar message from Sweden’s foreign ministry.