It was the Kremlin chief's first visit to Crimea since Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine began on February 24, 2022. Russia incorporated Crimea into its own territory on March 18, 2014. The annexation was preceded by a referendum that was not recognized by Kiev and the international community. The annexation was followed by sanctions by Western states, which have been drastically tightened since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
Putin attended an art school in Sevastopol, accompanied by local governor Mikhail Rasvozhayev, TV channel Rossia-1 reported. Sevastopol is just 240 kilometers from the city of Kherson, which was retaken from the Ukrainian army in November after Russian troops withdrew. The Russian president has never been closer to the front since the beginning of the war.
"Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich knows how to surprise. In the truest sense of the word," said the governor in the online service Telegram. Actually, Putin wanted to take part in the inauguration of the art school for children via video conference. "But Vladimir Vladimirovich came in person. At the wheel. Because he is always with Sevastopol and its people on such a historic day as today."
Putin's last visit to Crimea was in 2021. In May 2018 he also inaugurated the bridge connecting Crimea and mainland Russia by personally driving a truck across it.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced in January that he wanted to retake Crimea, "our country", by force of arms. Moscow, on the other hand, keeps emphasizing that Crimea is Russian and refuses to negotiate about it.
In Moscow, on the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, activists loyal to the Kremlin demonstrated in front of the embassies of 20 countries classified as "unfriendly", including Germany, the USA, Great Britain and Poland. They "support Ukraine (...) and actively supply deadly weapons to the Ukrainian regime," declared the youth movement "Molodaja gwardia" ("Young Guard").
The "plan" of the Ukrainian President and US President Joe Biden envisages "taking back Crimea using these deadly weapons," said the leader of the movement, Anton Demidov, in front of the US embassy, where around 400 people demonstrated. The movement put the number of demonstrators at a total of 5,000.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army announced that on Friday evening the Russian army attacked Ukraine with Iranian-made drones. Eleven of 16 drones were "destroyed".
The region around Lviv in the extreme west of Ukraine was reportedly particularly targeted by the drones. "Around 1 a.m. our region was attacked by Shahed 136 kamikaze drones," said regional governor Maksim Kositski. Three drones were shot down and three others hit non-residential buildings, he added. There was damage, but no one was injured.
According to the Ukrainian authorities, three drones were also shot down in the Dnipro region in the southeast. There were no injuries there either, but "critical infrastructure" was hit in Novomoskovsk, there was a fire and four houses were destroyed and six others damaged.
However, drones aimed at the capital Kiev were all shot down by the Ukrainian air defense, the city administration said.