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Russian President Vladimir Putin has travelled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine, the day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said Mr Putin visited an art school and a children’s centre on Saturday, locations that appeared to have been chosen in response to the court’s action.
The court specifically accused him on Friday of bearing personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine during Russia’s full-scale invasion of the neighbouring country that started almost 13 months ago.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula as well as the areas it has occupied since last year.
Mr Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he stressed on Friday the importance of holding Crimea.
“Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city.
Mr Putin took a plane to travel the 1,821 kilometres from Moscow to Sevastopol, where he took the wheel of the car that transported him around the city, according to Moscow-installed governor Mikhail Razvozhaev.
Along with the art school and children’s centre, Mr Putin also toured an archaeological site at the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Chersonesos, according to Russian state media.
Ukraine hit by Russian drone attack
Widespread Russian attacks continued in Ukraine after the court’s announcement. Ukraine was attacked by 16 Russian drones on Friday night, the Ukrainian air force reported early Saturday.
Writing on Telegram, the air force command said that 11 out of 16 drones were shot down “in the central, western and eastern regions.” Among areas targeted were the capital, Kyiv, and the western Lviv province.
The head of the Kyiv city administration, Serhii Popko, said Ukrainian air defences shot down all drones heading for the Ukrainian capital.
Lviv regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyi said Saturday that three of six drones were shot down, with the other three hitting a district bordering Poland.
According to the Ukrainian air force, the attacks were carried out from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov and Russia’s Bryansk province, which borders Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military additionally said in its regular update Saturday morning that Russian forces over the previous 24 hours launched 34 air strikes, one missile strike and 57 rounds of anti-aircraft fire.
The Facebook update said that falling debris hit the southern Kherson province, damaging seven houses and a kindergarten.
Russia targets Ukraine’s eastern regions
According to the Ukrainian statement, Russia is still concentrating on offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka and Shakhtarsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province.
Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said one person was killed and three wounded when 11 towns and villages in the province were shelled on Friday.
Further west, Russian rockets hit a residential area overnight in the city of Zaporizhzhia, the regional capital of the partially occupied province of the same name.
No casualties were reported, but houses were damaged Anatoliy Kurtev of the Zaporizhzhia City Council said.
UN says Black Sea grain deal extended
A deal allowing the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports that was due to expire on Saturday has been renewed, following days of talks brokered by Turkiye to extend the agreement.
The pact was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkiye in July — and renewed for a further 120 days in November — to combat a global food crisis that was fuelled in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Black Sea blockade.
“The Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed in Istanbul on 22 July, 2022, has been extended,” the United Nations said in a statement, thanking the Turkish government for its diplomatic and operational support of the deal.
“The deal for the grain corridor was due to expire today. As a result of our talks with the two sides, we have secured an extension to this deal,” Turkiye’s President Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech in the western city of Canakkale.
Neither Mr Erdogan nor the UN statement specified the length of the agreed extension.
Russia wanted to renew the deal for only 60 days, half the term of the previous renewal period, while Ukraine was insisting on a 120-day rollover.
Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the deal had been extended for 120 days.
“Grateful to [UN General Secretary Antonio] Guterres, [the] UN, President Erdoğan, Minister Hulusi Akar & all our partners for sticking to the agreements,” he added.
But Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian news agency Tass that Moscow agreed to a 60-day extension.
The UN statement said the deal had allowed the supply of 25 million tonnes of grain and foodstuffs during its first two terms, helping to bring down global food prices and stabilise markets.
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