Vladimir Putin on all channels. The Kremlin ruler's propaganda machine is running at full speed these days. The reason for Putin's high-profile appearances is actually the ninth anniversary of the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. At the same time – as luck would have it – the Putin show follows directly after the International Criminal Court issued the arrest warrant against the Russian president.
A day after the announcement, Putin started his PR offensive with a surprise visit to Crimea, where he was shown an art school and a holiday camp, among other things. State-controlled television images showed him interested in viewing works of art or conversing with representatives of the Moscow-appointed authorities. "Our President Vladimir Vladimirovich knows how to surprise," said local governor Mikhail Rasvoschajew, praising the visit from the distant capital. Actually, Putin only wanted to be connected via video. "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 lightning visit was embedded in a whole series of celebrations on the peninsula. A patriotically charged car and motorcycle rally started with the Kremlin-based biker club "Night Wolves", a series of patriotic concerts were also planned, Russian flags waved in the streets of Yalta and posters with the likeness of the Russian President hung.
Putin most recently visited the region last year to test the bridge that connects the peninsula with the Russian mainland himself for its navigability after reconstruction - even then, of course, Putin was personally at the wheel.
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 Russian President normally avoids all areas near the front, but this weekend he also visited a city in the long-contested region in southern Ukraine.
According to official information, the next stop on the trip was the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, which his troops had almost leveled and occupied in the first months of the war. According to Kiev, 20,000 people died there, and the Russian army is accused of serious war crimes. According to the official account, Putin flew in by helicopter and took a nightly car tour to see the supposed reconstruction of the city. Street lighting and bus traffic are back, said Deputy Prime Minister Marat Chusnulli from the passenger seat to the Kremlin chief at the wheel. "People are starting to return to the city." Selected residents "spontaneously" praised Moscow's work, the state television cameras were running. Even when Putin took a seat in the hall of the city's philharmonic hall. There, the Russian regime had actually planned show trials against alleged Ukrainian prisoners of war and officials - which have not happened there to this day. Nevertheless, for Western observers, Putin's visit to the improvised courtroom is symbolic. "Putin in court," wrote Der Spiegel, referring to the arrest warrant.
Nevertheless, Putin's visits to the Ukrainian regions are likely to be a propaganda success for Putin. State television reports on Russian successes in the "liberated" areas, the arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court is at best a side note that the Kremlin brushes aside.
However, the trip provoked strong reactions in Kiev. "Criminals always return to the scene of a crime," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's adviser, Mikhail Podoliak, wrote on Twitter. "The murderer of thousands of families in Mariupol came to admire the city's ruins and their tombs. Cynicism and lack of remorse," he added. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said that Putin visited the city, which had been largely destroyed by Russian bombardments, under cover of night "as befits a thief." The darkness enabled him to protect the city "and its few surviving inhabitants from prying eyes".
The weekend of Putin's self-portrayal ended with a television interview that was broadcast on state television on Sunday. It shows that the Russian president might have wanted to invade Ukraine sooner, but did not believe his army was adequately equipped. "We didn't have hypersonic weapons then, but we have them now." So far, Russia has occasionally used the hypersonic weapons. "There are also other modern systems, there was nothing comparable in 2014," he said, again claiming that Russia wanted to resolve the conflict over Ukraine peacefully at the time. Putin made it clear that in 2014 Russia was not yet ready for "greater actions" than when it annexed Crimea.
Charged with the impressions of his trip to the war zone, starting Monday, Putin will meet Xi Jinping at banquets and negotiations. The Chinese head of state and party leader is coming to Moscow for a three-day state visit. Under the eyes of the world public, the two also want to consolidate their alliance against the USA.
According to the Kremlin, an article by Putin on Ukraine is also planned for Chinese newspapers on Monday - as an "important signal" before the negotiations. Xi Jinping, in turn, has prepared an article for Russian media, it said.
The war goes on, so does the propaganda.
Sources: DPA news agency, AFP and Reuters