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Putin Makes Surprise Visit to Occupied Mariupol

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President Vladimir Putin flew to the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol in Donetsk hours after visiting Crimea’s Sevastopol to celebrate “reunification” events to mark the 9th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.

The Russian leader’s first visit to territory reoccupied by Russia during its year-long war – and the scene of one of its deadliest battles – came a day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin for his alleged role cited the illegal deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay a three-day state visit to Russia starting Monday. The grain export deal, which allows Ukraine to ship from key Black Sea ports, was renewed on Saturday, hours before it was due to expire.

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Important Developments

  • Putin makes an unannounced visit to occupied Mariupol

  • Renewed grain contract with Ukraine, paving the way for further exports

  • ADM restarts oilseed crushing plant in Ukraine after a year

  • Xi is visiting Russia for the first time since Putin invaded Ukraine

  • NATO moves closer to enlargement as Turkey backs Finland’s bid

(All times CET)

Putin makes surprise visit to occupied Ukrainian city (6am)

Putin traveled by helicopter to Mariupol on the Azov Sea in the southern province of Donetsk, Tass reported on Sunday. The Russian leader’s unannounced visit – his first since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago and later claimed to have annexed four provinces – followed his appearance in Crimea.

Putin has reviewed the construction and restoration work in Mariupol, Tass said. An official video showed Putin driving a car through the streets at night. The location cannot be confirmed. Much of the city, which had a population of around 450,000 before the war, was devastated in one of the bloodiest battles of the Russian War.

The visit comes almost exactly a year after a Russian missile attack on the Mariupol Drama Theater on March 16, 2022 killed hundreds of people hiding inside. Amnesty International has described the theater strike as a “clear war crime”. Ukraine estimates that 20,000 civilians died during the month-long Russian siege.

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Ukrainian prime minister announces change of cabinet (5 p.m.)

Oleksandr Kamyshin, former chief executive officer of the national railway company Ukrzaliznytsia, will be appointed Ukraine’s minister of strategic industries next week, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said.

All top officials visiting Kiev use Ukrzaliznytsia to get to the capital from Poland, as Ukraine’s passenger airports have been closed since the first day of the Russian invasion.

Shmyhal, who met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party on Saturday to discuss changes to his cabinet, also said Ukraine’s education minister would be replaced.

Renewed grain export agreement with Ukraine; Duration of debate (3:30 p.m.)

The deal, which will allow Ukraine to export grain and other crops from the main Black Sea ports, was extended hours before it expired.

While Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said the pact, originally negotiated by Turkey and the United Nations last summer, had been extended by four months, the spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry said the agreement lasted for 60 days.

Read more: Renewed grain deal with Ukraine, paving the way for more exports

Putin flies to Crimea for ‘reunification’ event, says Russian TV (2pm)

Vladimir Putin paid an unannounced visit to Sevastopol in Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in 2014, according to video released on state television.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the Russian head of state plans to take part in the celebrations via video link.

Russia, China and Iran complete naval exercises in the Arabian Sea (12:43 p.m.)

Russia, China and Iran have completed a fourth round of naval exercises in the Arabian Sea, Interfax reported, citing the Russian Defense Ministry. Iranian media reported that the exercises, dubbed “Marine Security Belt 2023,” included night-time gunnery operations against air targets.

The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov and the Chinese destroyer Nanjing took part in the exercises, which took place on Thursday and Friday. The war games follow others over the past month involving Russia, China and South Africa, which also used the Gorshkov, which is armed with hypersonic Zircon missiles.

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping is making his first state visit to Russia next week since it invaded Ukraine amid concerns China could start providing military aid to Moscow.

Germany, Japan welcome Putin arrest warrant (11:30 a.m.)

Leaders of Japan and Germany jointly welcomed the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin over his alleged role in the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

“No one is above the law. That is also an important principle of international law,” said Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Kishida said his government is following the investigation “with great interest.”

US and Ukrainian officials discuss military needs at Battlefield, Kyiv

Senior US officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a video meeting with Ukraine’s president and his chief of staff, the defense secretary and senior military commanders.

The participants, which included Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and Commander-in-Chief of Ground and Air Defense Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, discussed Kiev’s military needs, including arms and ammunition, Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak on Telegram.

The officials held detailed discussions about the situation on the battlefield, including the most difficult combat operations, and about the urgent needs of the Ukrainian army, Yermak said.

Russia Launches Drone Attack Overnight (8am)

Air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine on Saturday morning.

Russia launched an attack Friday night using 16 Iranian-made disposable drones from the Bryansk region and the east coast of the Sea of ​​Azov, Ukraine’s Air Defense Force said on Saturday. Kiev’s forces shot down 11 drones in the central, eastern and western regions.

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Two drones “significantly” damaged critical infrastructure in Novomoskovsk in the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, regional head Serhiy Lysak told Telegram. Three drones hit buildings near Yavoriv in the far west of the Lviv region. Yavoriv is located 15 kilometers from the Polish border and close to Ukraine’s largest military training center.

Biden Says Putin’s ICC Arrest Warrant ‘Justified’ (8am)

President Joe Biden said on Friday the International Criminal Court arrest warrant accusing Russia’s Vladimir Putin of war crimes was “justified”.

Neither the US nor Russia have signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, so the jurisdiction of the court in The Hague is limited in both countries.

“He clearly committed war crimes,” Biden said Friday night outside the White House. He called the warrant “justified,” adding that although the US doesn’t recognize the court, “I think it’s a very strong argument.”

Russia Likely to Expand Conscription, Britain Says (7am)

Russia may be preparing to ease broader conscription to meet its military needs, Britain’s MoD said in a Twitter update.

The UK noted that the Russian Duma has tabled a bill to change the age range of men eligible for military service from the current 18-27 to 21-30. If adopted, the measure would come into force in January.

“Many 18- to 21-year-old men are currently claiming exemption from military service because of their college education. Authorities are most likely changing the age group to increase troop levels, ensuring that students are eventually forced into service,” the UK said.

ADM Restarts Oilseed Crushing Plant in Ukraine (11:00 p.m.)

US commodities company Archer-Daniels-Midland has reopened its oilseeds crushing plant in southern Ukraine, another sign grain traders are more optimistic about the prospects for shipments from the country.

The Chornomorsk plant recently resumed operations, an ADM spokeswoman said on Friday. The Russian invasion of Ukraine forced the company to cease operations last year.

Read more: ADM restarts oilseed crushing plant in Ukraine after a year

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