+++ News in the Ukraine war +++: Putin visits Crimea and Mariupol
President Putin visits Crimea and the occupied port city of Mariupol. It is the first public appearance in an occupied territory since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression.
Kremlin calls trip a “working visit”
For the first time since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin has visited the occupied territories of the neighboring country. As the Kremlin announced on Sunday night, Putin had paid a “working visit” to the port city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea, which had been destroyed in heavy fighting. Russian state television showed the 70-year-old at the wheel of a car driving through the city at night. Damage to buildings could also be seen.
After his arrival in a helicopter, he informed himself about the situation during a tour and also talked to residents of the city, the Kremlin said. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Chusnullin informed Putin about the status of the reconstruction work. “People are starting to return to the city,” Chusnullin said from the passenger seat. Street lighting and bus services are back in Mariupol.
According to the report, state television also showed Putin’s visit to the city’s philharmonic hall, where the president took a seat in a hall. According to Chusnullin, a university building and student residence is also intact. Citizens were also shown thanking Putin for the unannounced visit.
According to the Kremlin, Putin also held a meeting in a command center for the “military special operation” against Ukraine, as the war is officially called in Russia, in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don near Ukraine. There, the President was briefed by Commander Valeri Gerasimov, who is also Chief of the Russian General Staff, and other officers about the course of combat operations in the neighboring country.
On Saturday afternoon, Putin visited the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which was annexed in 2014. On the 9th anniversary of the incorporation, state television broadcast images of the Kremlin chief driving a car and opening an art school for children in the port city of Sevastopol.
Russia launched a war of aggression against Ukraine on February 24 last year. Mariupol was besieged by Russian troops and only came under full Russian military control on May 20. The city was largely destroyed during the fighting. Ukraine announced plans to liberate Mariupol. (dpa/ap)
Zelenskyj announces further Ukrainian sanctions against Russia
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has announced new sanctions against Russia and its allies Iran and Syria. “Ukrainian sanctions are part of the global pressure on Russia,” the 45-year-old said in his daily video address on Saturday. A total of 400 people and companies are affected, including those responsible for the deliveries of the Iranian Shahed drones. These are used by the Russian military in the war of aggression against Ukraine. The sanctions probably have a symbolic meaning above all, since most of those affected do not do business with Kiev.
In his video message, Zelenskyy blamed the international community’s passivity in Syria a few years ago, when Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin kept President Bashar al-Assad in power there with his bombs, for the start of the war in Ukraine. “The people of Syria have not received adequate international protection and this has given the Kremlin and its accomplices a sense of impunity,” Zelenskyy said.
“There is only one way to save life – it is necessary to expel the Russian army from Ukrainian soil. And we will do it,” Zelenskyy promised. Looking at the past week, he thought his country was on the right track. For example, Ukraine received a new armaments package with ammunition, artillery and combat aircraft from the West. In addition, there were larger rounds of negotiations with the United States about further armaments aid, the Ukrainian head of state said. (dpa)
Erdogan announces extension of grain deal with Ukraine
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday announced the extension of the grain deal that allowed Ukraine to resume grain exports after the start of the Russian war of aggression. However, the timeline for the extension was unclear: Russia said it had agreed to a 60-day extension, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister spoke of 120 days.
“After talks with both sides, we have pledged to extend the agreement, which was due to expire on March 19,” Turkish leader Erdogan said in a televised address just hours before the deal expired. The spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Stéphane Dujarric, also confirmed the extension. However, neither Turkey nor the United Nations provided information on the time frame.
The agreement is “of crucial importance for the global food supply,” said Erdogan after the end of the week-long negotiations. He thanked Russia and Ukraine “who spared no effort to secure a further extension of the agreement”. Ankara previously said it hoped for a 120-day extension.
“The agreement on the Black Sea Grains Initiative will be extended by 120 days,” Ukrainian infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov wrote on Twitter. He thanked Turkey and the UN for their renewed mediation. “We are grateful to António Guterres, the United Nations, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (Turkish Defense Minister) Hulusi Akar and all our partners for confirming the agreement,” Kubrakov said.
However, Moscow insisted on an extension of only 60 days. “We are seeing reports from partners in the ‘grain deal’ that the deal has been extended by 120 days,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to the Interfax news agency. “We have repeatedly stated that the Russian side has informed all contracting parties that they are extending the agreement for 60 days,” she added.
The grain deal was signed in July, mediated by the UN and Turkey, to allow Ukrainian grain to be safely exported through a protective corridor in the Black Sea. Turkey had played a key role in launching the UN-backed grain deal. The agreement was initially valid for 120 days and was extended by a further 120 days in November.
According to UN figures, more than 24.1 million tons of grain have been exported so far. Parallel to the grain agreement, an agreement was concluded that allows Russia – despite sanctions – to export fertilizers and food. Moscow has repeatedly complained that this agreement will not be implemented and has therefore declared that it will only accept a 60-day extension of the grain agreement.
Because of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the world’s important grain supplies and exports of other foods from the country initially collapsed. The result was a temporary explosion in the price of certain commodities, including wheat and sunflower oil. (afp)