Ukraine war: Vladimir Putin tours Mariupol in first visit to Ukrainian territory occupied since invasion

Vladimir Putin has made his first visit to Ukrainian territory occupied since the beginning of the war, touring the city of Mariupol in the southeast of the country.

The president made what state media described as a "working trip" to the port city in Donetsk, which was annexed in September last year after Russia's invasion.

The visit appeared to be a show of defiance after a warrant for his arrest was issued by the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes on Friday.

Mr Putin, who arrived in a helicopter, travelled around several districts of the city, making stops and talking to residents, according to the state-owned TASS news agency, which cited the Kremlin.

A video posted on state media showed the president driving around the city and visiting a concert hall that was allegedly used by Russia to keep prisoners of war in cages during "sham" trials last year.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that the visit was "absolutely spontaneous" adding that "actually, just as spontaneously, the president drove further himself to look at the monument to the heroes of World War II, and then he visited the park."

Mr Peskov went on to say residents in the region "raised questions about the late payment of salaries" and said that "it is difficult to apply for citizenship of the Russian Federation" and "it is difficult to issue passports".

"Therefore, there will be instructions from the head of state to improve this system," he said.

Addressing Mr Putin's arrest warrant, the Kremlin spokesman also said "Russia does and will do what it thinks answers its interests".

He continued: "We consider any decisions by the International Criminal Court's legally void, which we also don't recognise."

Mr Putin also visited Crimea yesterday to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula's annexation from Ukraine.

He annexed the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia in September, signing a law that absorbed them into Russia after so-called referenda rejected as a sham by Ukraine and the West.

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How steelworks turned into the final outpost in the brutal battle for Mariupol

Most of the world considers Russia's annexations to be illegal, while Ukraine has said it will fight to get the regions back.

Mariupol, a strategically important port city on the Sea of Azov, was the site of some of the fiercest fighting in the early part of the war.

Ukrainian forces holed up in the city's Azovstal steelworks for a last-stand defensive, which ended in surrender in May after a three-month siege of the facility by Russia.

More than 2,500 buildings sustained damage in the siege of Mariupol - nearly half of everything that stood in the city.

Russia has been remodelling the city in its own image since its capture, including turning the ruined steelworks, once one of the biggest metallurgical plants in Europe, into a "tech and eco park".

Mr Putin also met the top command of his military operation in Ukraine, including Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, according to Russian media.

The meeting is said to have taken place at the Rostov-on-Don command post, in southern Russia, near to the Ukrainian border, according to TASS.

Mr Putin flew from Moscow to Sevastopol, Crimea's largest city, and was greeted by Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Russian-installed governor, before visiting an art school and a children's centre.

Mr Putin's remarks were not broadcast by state media but as recently as Friday, he was talking about the importance of holding on to Crimea.

"Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now," he said.

"We will do everything needed to fend off any threats."

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Mr Putin has not commented publicly on the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant, but his spokesman called it "null and void" on Friday.

The court says he is responsible for the abduction of hundreds of Ukrainian children since Russia's full invasion of the country began in February last year.

Russia does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court, which is based in The Hague.

It also does not extradite its citizens to face the court's justice, meaning Mr Putin is unlikely to ever face trial there.