Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Crimea, arriving there driving a car himself, nine years after the annexation of the peninsula of which Ukraine claims sovereignty, Russian state television reported. The broadcaster aired short footage showing Putin walking with a group of officials.

According to Russian state television, Putin visited Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed. According to Russian television images, Putin, informally dressed in a blue cardigan and dark pants, visited the local school of fine arts, accompanied by the Crimean governor, Mikhaïl Razvoiayev.

In addition to the school of fine arts, Putin, accompanied by the head of the Patriarch's Cultural Council, Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov and Porkhov, also visited the "Korsun" children's center, a deliberate choice ahead of the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against the Russian President, accused of ordering the forced deportation of Ukrainian minors. The Korsun center will host children who will come to Crimea for holidays and to visit the peninsula.

On the occasion of the anniversary, Putin reiterated: "Obviously, security issues have the highest priority for Crimea and Sevastopol. We will do whatever it takes to fend off any threat."

Both the art school and the kindergarten are part of the first phase of the construction of an archaeological park in the city designed for children. The school of modern art will be a place where young creatives residing in Sevastopol can explore the world's artistic heritage through examples of ancient and Byzantine monuments. Putin then visited the archaeological site at the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Sevastopol.

AP Photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev as he arrives to visit the children's art and aesthetic center in Sevastopol, Crimea

The Russian president traditionally participates in the events of March 18. And he has repeatedly taken part in gala concerts dedicated to this date at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and has visited Crimea several times. In December 2022 he went to the Crimean Bridge, under repair after a powerful explosion (October 2022) that collapsed part of it.

According to Russian state television, Putin reached Sevastopol on a direct flight from Moscow, and personally drove the car in which he drove around the city with the governor.

The governor of Sevastopol reacted enthusiastically to the surprise visit of the Russian leader. "Our president knows how to surprise us, in a good way - he wrote on Telegram - Today we had to inaugurate an art school for children. Everything was ready for a video conference and a special connection with the president. But in the end the president came personally. By car. He was behind the wheel himself. On this historic day, the president is always with Sevastopol and its people. Our country has an incredible leader."

ICC international arrest warrant issued yesterday for Putin

Yesterday the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Putin holding him "responsible for the war crime of illegally deporting children from the occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia."

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Kahn argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin can be tried despite Moscow claiming not to be subject to the decisions of the international body. In an interview with CNN the day after the ICC decision, Kahn recalled the historic trials of Nazi war criminals, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, as examples of seemingly untouchable figures who faced justice. "They were all powerful figures, yet they found themselves in courtrooms," he said.

Russia is among the countries that have not signed the international treaty establishing the Hague Court. For this reason, it is considered unlikely that Putin will be judged in court, but Kahn does not think so. Putin, he stressed, is the first head of a permanent member state of the UN Security Council to be issued an arrest warrant by the Court.