🔴 Live: Putin visits war-ravaged Mariupol after Crimea trip, Kremlin says
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise trip to Mariupol after visiting Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine, the Kremlin has said, in what would mark his first trip to the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine’s Donbas region since the start of the war. Follow our live blog for the latest developments in the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
9:45am: Putin’s surprise Mariupol visit an answer to ICC arrest warrant
President Vladimir Putin’s purported visit to the martyred Ukrainian city of Mariupol is a “provocation” aimed at both the international community and Ukraine, two days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader, says FRANCE 24’s Emmanuelle Chaze, reporting from Kyiv.
8:35am: Mariupol residents ‘actively’ returning to the city, Russia claims
Mariupol residents are “actively” returning to the war-ravaged city, Russian agencies have quoted Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin as saying, adding that Khusnullin accompanied Putin on his trip there.
Mariupol had a population of half a million people before the war and is home to the Azovstal steel plant, one of Europe’s largest and the site of a protracted siege last year.
“The downtown has been badly damaged,” Khusnullin said. “We want to finish (reconstruction) of the centre by the end of the year, at least the facade part. The centre is very beautiful.”
Putin visited a family in the Nevsky district of Mariupol, Russian media reported. The new residential neighbourhood has been built by the Russian military with the first people moving in last September.
There was also no immediate reaction to the visit from Kyiv.
5:15am: Putin visits Mariupol after Crimea trip, Kremlin says
President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Mariupol, Russian state media report, in what would be the Kremlin leader’s first trip to the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine’s Donbas region since the start of the war.
The visit came after Putin travelled to Crimea on Saturday in an unannounced visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine, and just two days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader.
Mariupol, which fell to Russia in May after one of the war’s longest and bloodiest battles, was Russia’s first major victory after it failed to seize Kyiv and focused instead on southeastern Ukraine.
Putin flew by helicopter to Mariupol, Russian new agencies reported citing the Kremlin. It is the closest to the front lines Putin has been since in the year-long war. Driving a car, Putin travelled around several districts of the city, making stops and talking to residents.
Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, was reduced to a smouldering shell after weeks of fighting. The Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE) said Russia’s early bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol was a war crime.
01:20am: Black Sea grain deal extended for at least 60 days
A deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain was renewed late on Saturday for at least 60 days – half the intended period – after Russia warned any further extension beyond mid-May would depend on the removal of some Western sanctions.
The pact was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July and renewed for a further 120 days in November. The aim was to combat a global food crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Black Sea blockade.
The deal had been set to expire on Saturday.
The United Nations and Turkey said the deal had been extended, but did not specify for how long. Ukraine said it had been extended for 120 days. But Russia’s cooperation is needed and Moscow only agreed to renew the pact for 60 days.
The IRC is deeply disappointed the Black Sea Grain Deal was only renewed for 60 days. A short deal is far from helpful in fixing supply chain issues or rising food prices.
— David Miliband (@DMiliband) March 18, 2023
“The Black Sea Grain Initiative, alongside the Memorandum of Understanding on promoting Russian food products and fertilizers to the world markets, are critical for global food security, especially for developing countries,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
10:07am: Ukraine still able to resupply troops in battered Bakhmut, army says
Ukrainian forces outside the battered eastern city of Bakhmut are managing to keep Russian units at bay so ammunition, food, equipment and medicines can be delivered to defenders, the army said on Saturday.
And in the latest claim to have inflicted heavy casualties, Kyiv said its troops had killed 193 Russians and injured 199 others during the course of fighting on Friday.
Russia has made the capture of Bakhmut a priority in its strategy to take control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas industrial region. The city has been largely destroyed in months of fighting, with Russia launching repeated assaults.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)