The defiant Putin visits Mariupol, second stop on his tour of occupied Ukraine

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia traveled to Mariupolhis second surprise visit to Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory this weekend, and a gesture of defiance shortly after an international court issued an arrest warrant for him.

Mr Putin flew by helicopter from Crimea and then visited Mariupol, in the eastern province of Donetsk, according to state media Tass on Sunday. Mariupol has been the scene of one of the fiercest battles since Russia invaded Ukraine last year. The Tass report called the stop a “work trip” for Mr Putin to review building and restoration work in the city, which was once home to half a million people and the largest steelworks in Europe.

It was Mr Putin’s second unannounced trip this weekend to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, and the closest the Russian leader has been to the front lines since last February’s invasion. His trip to Crimea on Saturday was to coincide with the ninth anniversary of the illegal annexation of the peninsula by Russia. The two high-profile visits were also gestures of defiance by the Kremlin less than 48 hours after an international court has issued an arrest warrant against him. The warrant claims he bore individual criminal responsibility for the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children that have taken place since the invasion of Russia last year.

Since the onset of winter, both sides have been locked in a fierce battle for land to the east where the front line has barely moved, with each army running out of ammunition and suffering mounting casualties. Mr Putin has shown no sign of letting up or heading to the negotiating table, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to take back all territory seized by Russia, including Crimea.

So far, Ukraine has recovered about half of this territory. And he has persuaded several of his NATO allies to provide their most valuable weapons, including tanks, missiles, anti-missile systems and, just last week, fighter jets. As the war enters its second year, Mr Putin has found himself even more isolated, with a growing list of sanctions and major obstacles to the sale of his country’s gas and oil, which are funding the war. That prompted him to look to Iran for weapons, including drones and missiles, and to Belarus, where he organized troops for last year’s invasion and is doing the same for a new offensive. Mr. Putin was precisely in Belarus in December to visit President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

On Monday, he will host Moscow’s most important ally, Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

China says Xi’s visit offers Beijing an opportunity to push Mr. Putin to peace talks and hinted that a call with Mr. Zelensky could follow. But the United States has argued that China was not an honest broker and was providing Russia with much-needed supplies for the war, accusations that China has denied and which have helped to plummet relations between the two powers. the lowest in decades.

For months last year, Russia sent thousands of troops to Mariupol, home to Europe’s largest steelworks, and shelled the city indiscriminately. Outnumbered and with increasingly unsophisticated weaponry, the Ukrainian army held out for weeks, eventually taking refuge in the city’s steelworks. Finally, in May, Ukrainian forces withdrew, leaving the devastated city under Russian control.

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