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Putin's next power move after 'returning to the scene of the crime'

Vladimir Putin driving around Mariupol in a visit to the city at the weekend
Vladimir Putin driving around Mariupol in a visit to the city at the weekend

Ukraine likened Vladimir Putin to a murderer returning to the crime scene after he drove himself around Mariupol in a sign of defiance at his war crimes arrest warrant.

It came as Britain pledged £395,000 to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to help convict the Russian leader.

London will today host a meeting of ministers and prosecutors from 40 countries helping to bring Mr Putin to justice.

Last night the Kremlin published an article written by Mr Putin for a Chinese newspaper praising their relationship and blaming the West for growing global instability.

In a sign of Mr Putin's desperation to please China ahead of the summit, he said: "We are grateful for the balanced line that China's has taken regarding events taking place in Ukraine, for understanding their background and true cause

The meeting in London will coincide with the summit in Moscow between Mr Putin and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, where the Russian leader is expected to request more support for his war in Ukraine.

Mr Putin’s trip to Mariupol, his first to captured territory, capped a weekend of surprise visits to annexed Ukraine, including Crimea, seized in 2014.

After flying into Mariupol on an army helicopter, Mr Putin drove himself to meet sobbing residents in a reconstructed apartment block, who thanked him for their new "slice of paradise".

An estimated 22,000 people died during Russia’s bombing of Mariupol last year. Thousands of children were also abducted by the Kremlin's forces and sent to Russia for indoctrination, for which the ICC on Friday placed Mr Putin on its wanted list.

“The criminal always returns to the crime scene," said Mikhail Podolyak, a top adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky after Mr Putin's visit. "The murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and graves."

The meeting will take place as London hosts a meeting of justice ministers and ICC prosecutors from 40 countries to bring Mr Putin to justice.

Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, will join justice ministers from around the world at Lancaster House for a war crimes meeting with Karim Khan KC, chief prosecutor of the ICC leading the Putin investigation.

Mr Raab writes in today's Daily Telegraph: "We are putting all those who carry out atrocities on notice. One day, you will face justice for the crimes carried out against the Ukrainian people."

Mr Raab said attendants at Lancaster House were “united by one cause to hold war criminals to account for the atrocities committed in Ukraine”.

“The criminal always returns to the crime scene,” said Mikhail Podolyak, a top adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky. “The murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and graves.”

Mr Putin, who makes limited trips outside of Moscow, drove himself around Mariupol’s “memorial sites”, concert hall and coastline, according to Russian state media.

One resident, filmed sobbing on his arrival, told Mr Putin she now “owned a piece of paradise” after the leader asked if she liked her new apartment.

“Wow, we have only ever seen you on television,” one man said after shaking Mr Putin’s hand, in what was likely a carefully choreographed display.

Putin meets with residents in Mariupol - POOL Russian TV
Putin meets with residents in Mariupol - POOL Russian TV

Plain-clothed Russian security agents wearing microphones hovered around Mr Putin, occasionally whispering into the ear of a resident or guiding them on where to stand.

“We’ll have to get to know each other better,” Mr Putin told the beaming residents.

The trip came ahead of a planned visit to Moscow by Mr Xi this week, expected to provide a major diplomatic boost to Mr Putin in his confrontation with the West.

The two leaders are scheduled to have a one-on-one meeting on Monday followed by an “informal lunch”, with more formal negotiations to take place on Tuesday.

Putin waves to residents after visiting their new flat in Mariupol - POOL Russian TV
Putin waves to residents after visiting their new flat in Mariupol - POOL Russian TV

China said on Friday it wants to “play a constructive role in promoting peace talks”. Beijing, a major Russian ally, has long sought to depict itself as a neutral party to the conflict.

The Kremlin also published an article written by Mr Putin for a Chinese newspaper praising their relationship and blaming the West for growing global instability.

In a sign of Mr Putin's desperation to please China ahead of the summit, he said: "We are grateful for the balanced line that China has taken regarding events taking place in Ukraine, for understanding their background and true causes."

The Russian military flattened Mariupol, previously a bustling port city of 400,000 people, in March and April last year and, in one of its worst crimes of the war, dropped bombs on a theatre where hundreds of women and children were sheltering. Most were killed.

Despite the destruction and the thousands of civilians killed, the Kremlin has been eager to project its capture of Mariupol as a success story. It quickly patched up and painted the main streets running through the city and also promised to construct new housing.

The Russian president meets residents of a rebuilt apartment block - AP
The Russian president meets residents of a rebuilt apartment block - AP

Mr Putin has been criticised for rarely leaving the Kremlin but he appeared determined to change that over the weekend with his series of surprise visits.

On Saturday he travelled to occupied Crimea to tour a children’s education centre before flying by helicopter to Mariupol and then to Rostov in Russia, where he received a battlefield briefing from his top military commanders.

Russian commentators praised Mr Putin’s visit to Mariupol as a brave and clever move that gave Western intelligence the slip.

“Putin drove himself through Mariupol without security in order to deceive Nato intelligence as much as possible,” said Sergei Markov, a former Russian presidential adviser. “Putin travelled to Mariupol not as a statesman, but as a private individual.”

Russian military bloggers also said that Mr Putin had driven himself around Mariupol to give Western intelligence the slip. In the car with Mr Putin was Marat Khusnullin, a deputy Russian prime minister, who gave the Russian leader a briefing on reconstruction efforts as he was driving.

Putin was briefed by Marat Khusnullin, a deputy Russian prime minister, while he was driving - AP
Putin was briefed by Marat Khusnullin, a deputy Russian prime minister, while he was driving - AP

Mr Putin has appeared far more energised in the past few weeks.

Commentators linked to the Kremlin have said that he is in a far better mood, cracking jokes and laughing.

Six months ago, the Russian army in Ukraine looked on the brink of collapse and Mr Putin was being shunned as a pariah, even by other autocratic leaders. Now, though, the Russian army has stabilised its frontline and he will host Mr Xi on Monday at the start of two days of talks.

The Russian media have been bragging about Mr Xi’s first trip to the Kremlin since 2019. In an article on Sunday, the popular “Moskovskaya Komsomolts” newspaper described it as a clear “gesture of support for Moscow from the Chinese side”.

Also on Sunday, the British Ministry of Defence said that a decision by Russian forces occupying the Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia this month to redesignate Melitopol as the regional capital suggested that they have given up on trying to capture Zaporizhzhia city.


'We are putting all those who carry out atrocities on notice'

By Dominic Raab 

Twenty years ago, I cut my teeth working as a war crimes lawyer for the UK Government at The Hague. So I’ve seen first-hand the impact of the International Criminal Court and ad-hoc war crime tribunals, forcing those who commit the world’s worst atrocities to face justice.

Take Radovan Karadicz, the Butcher of Bosnia, and Charles Taylor, the warlord-turned-President of Liberia. Both with innocent blood on their hands, both behind bars in British jails courtesy of the war crimes courts in The Hague.

As we move into a second year of President Putin’s devastating war in Ukraine, the ICC matters more than ever.

On Friday, the court issued arrest warrants for President Putin and his Children’s Rights chief over the alleged abduction of hundreds of Ukrainian children taken forcibly from their parents and deported to Russia. This is a significant step forward for accountability and shows that the international justice system is working.

The UK has been steadfast in its support for Ukraine from the start. First, through military aid, as the first country to send in battle tanks, and in helping to train Ukraine’s pilots and marines.

Second, through sanctions. We’ve frozen more than £18 billion in Russian assets, from over 1,300 individuals and companies - stemming the funds fuelling Putin’s war machine.

Third, through humanitarian support, including taking in over 150,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian brutality.

And fourth, through the accountability strand of our international strategy.

It’s why we are today hosting a justice ministers’ summit, bringing together 42 like-minded nations to agree on support for the ICC, and its independent investigation into atrocities in Ukraine.

We’ve all seen the harrowing events on our television screens. The Bucha massacre, with its mass grave filled with innocent civilians. A Mariupol maternity hospital bombed, newborn babies and their mothers inside. The recent disturbing footage of a Ukrainian prisoner of war being executed. There can be no impunity for such atrocities.

Supported by 43 countries, last year the UK spearheaded the largest state referral in the ICC’s history. It meant the court could expedite its investigation into the atrocities in Ukraine, bringing justice for the Ukrainian people one step closer.

And, along with the European Union and United States, we are supporting Ukraine’s domestic investigations with funding and expertise, training the prosecutors and judges overseeing war crimes trials.

The ICC has asked for our help in other vital areas, including digital forensics and support for child victims and victims of sexual crimes.

So, today, we are pledging an additional £395,000 in funding, earmarked for psychological support for vulnerable witnesses. It brings the UK’s total support for the ICC this year to £1m. This is on top of our annual contribution, and an extra £1m last year.

We are funding two experienced UK investigators to work directly with the ICC for a year, and will share our expertise in open-source investigation, to help the court analyse unprecedented amounts of online evidence.

And we’ll offer training for ICC investigators, as well as having a panel of experts - from clinicians to criminal justice specialists - on-hand to strengthen the court’s support for victims.

But this is a team effort. We cannot do it on our own. That’s why we have convened the 42 nations taking part today - each with their own expertise to share and part to play.

This is global Britain in action, as a force for good in the world. Galvanising other nations to act, united behind the ICC and determined to bring war criminals to justice.

A year on from Russia’s illegal invasion, we must remain steadfast in our support for the people of Ukraine, and the principles of democracy, and the international rule of law.

The efforts of the international community today will strengthen the ICC in its role of independently prosecuting war crimes. So that any aggressor, anywhere in the world, knows there can be no impunity for those who commit such abhorrent acts.

We are putting all those who carry out atrocities on notice. One day, you will face justice for the crimes carried out against the Ukrainian people.