Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a rare trip outside the safety of Moscow and visited Ukraine's Kherson and Luhansk regions, according to the Kremlin.
"The supreme commander of Russian Federation armed forces has visited the headquarters of the Dniepr (sic) military grouping" in the Kherson region, as well as Russian national guard headquarters in the Luhansk region in the east, the Kremlin said in a statement.
It marked the first time Putin has visited the areas, Ukrainian oblasts (provinces) partly occupied by Russian forces, since Moscow illegally annexed them along with two other Ukrainian regions last year.
First things first – is it true?
The Kremlin statement made no mention of exactly when the trip actually took place, only saying that he wished the troops a happy Easter, which Orthodox Christians marked on Sunday, April 16.
Russian state media news reports showed Putin disembarking from a helicopter in a nondescript field, exiting a vehicle in what appears to be a military compound, and meeting with military figures in a command centre.
The exact location of the meeting is not yet known, but there should be enough details in the video for the internet’s OSINT sleuths to geo-locate it quite soon.
One short section of the video shows the view from the front of a vehicle as it enters the port city of Heniches'k in the Kherson region, but Putin is not visible in the same video. Heniches’k has the southern most airfield in Kherson region, and is about 20 kilometres from the border with Russian-occupied Crimea region.
#Russian news agency report that President Putin visited the "Dnepr" Headquarters of the Russian army in the Kherson area pic.twitter.com/RJzTqjbHau— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) April 18, 2023
What did he do?
According to Russian state media, Putin attended a meeting of military commanders from Russia’s airborne forces (VDV) and the "Dnieper" army group.
He was apparently briefed on the situation in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, two areas of Ukraine that Moscow illegally proclaimed part of Russia last year.
"It's important for me to hear your opinion on the situation, to listen to you and to exchange information," Putin said in a video released by the Kremlin.
Russian state media reports Putin gave commanders a copy of an icon that belonged to "one of the most successful defense ministers of the Russian Empire".
Who exactly did he meet?
Perhaps most significantly, Putin met with the newly appointed commander of the VDV, General Colonel Mikhail Teplinsky, who, according to western analysts, is behind the renewed increase in ferocity of Russian attacks on the long fought over city of Bakhmut.
Previously dismissed from a commanding role in January 2023, Teplinsky’s reappointment is likely an “attempt by the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) to posture itself better to work with Wagner to finish the task of taking Bakhmut”, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Putin is also reported to have met with Group Commander Colonel General Makarevich and other military leaders.
How has Ukraine reacted?
Later on Tuesday, Kyiv accused Putin of visiting the scenes of Russian "crimes".
"Putin's degradation is impressive," tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said Putin was touring Ukraine's occupied territories "to enjoy the crimes of his minions for the last time."
Putin's degradation is impressive. The world waited for his statement a year ago. Now they don't. There's no such political actor. There's only a "special tour" of the mass murders author in the occupied and ruined territories to enjoy the crimes of his minions for the last time.— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) April 18, 2023
Has Putin visited occupied Ukraine before?
As far as we know, this is Putin’s second visit to Russian-occupied Ukraine. He made a bizarre night-time trip to Mariupol last month.
While there, he met with conveniently friendly residents of the city utterly destroyed by Russian forces in one of the only residential areas since rebuilt by the occupiers.
At the time, Ukraine described the trip under the cover of darkness as one that “befits a thief”, designed to shield the destruction of Mariupol from the accompanying cameras.
As befits a thief, putin visited Ukrainian Mariupol, under the cover of night.— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) March 19, 2023
First, it is safer.
Also, darkness allows him to highlight what he wants to show, and keeps the city his army completely destroyed and its few surviving inhabitants away from prying eyes.
How significant is the trip?
Aside from the fact it's only Putin's second visit to Russian-occupied Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion, the timing is also significant coming as it does ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive this spring.
Despite illegally annexing great swathes of Ukrainian land last September, Russia has not had much success holding onto large parts of it.
Kherson city itself was liberated by Ukrainian forces just six weeks after Putin's annexation announcement.
Moscow has not given up trying to consolidate its authority on the regions however, with Putin recently signing a law to switch the occupied territories to Moscow time.
#Russian Occupation Update:— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) April 16, 2023
Russian President Vladimir #Putin signed a law on April 14 that officially switched occupied #Donetsk, #Luhansk, #Kherson, and #Zaporizhia oblasts to #Moscow time. https://t.co/qFzrIGor9e pic.twitter.com/J780YSOe7i
But if Ukraine's counteroffensive successfully manages to liberate anymore of the territories Moscow claims as its own, Putin will likely have some serious questions to answer.
What's the latest military situation in Ukraine?
Shortly after annoucning Putin's visit to the Kherson region, Russian forces shelled a market in Kherson city killing at least one person and injuring several others.
Elsewhere, British military intelligence said on Tuesday that "heavy fighting" continued along the Donbas front line.
"However, there is a realistic possibility that Russia has reduced troop numbers and is decreasing offensive action around Donetsk city, most likely to divert resources towards the Bakhmut sector," it said in a statement on Twitter.
The statement said that in Bakhmut, Russia's regular troops and forces from the Wagner mercenary outfit continued to make "creeping advances." "The front line in the town centre largely follows the main railway line," the statement said. Ukraine, the statement said, wants "to free-up an offensive force while Russia likely aspires to regenerate an operational reserve."
The commander of Ukrainian ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said Russian troops were not abandoning their goal of taking control of Bakhmut "at any cost," ramping up the use of heavy artillery and air strikes.
Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine's military intelligence, for his part said that Russia currently had "no offensive potential for a strategic offensive operation."
The head of the Ukrainian president's office, Andriy Yermak, meanwhile said he spoke with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
"We agreed on further coordination on the issue of providing aid in Ukraine and discussed further steps in this direction," he said on Telegram.
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Clickbait title!!! I thought Putin went to have a meeting with President Zelensky! Should've mentioned "occupied Ukraine" or written the name of the paces themselves in the title.
That doesn't look like Putin, he is too afraid to visit Ukraine
That is not Putin. I could tell from the very first glance I took. It's the same double that was in occupied Mariupol.
Is it really him, or just a double?
@Doris Bronson, it is his double the belgium comicstrip fgure Lambik with the double and recessing chin (see below for the link)
"most succesfull minister of defense"??????? there has never been one and there will never be one
the best thing in rasshist is corruption
and the figure in the clip looks more like Lambik, that comicstripfigure from Belgium https://www.google.com/search?q=lambik&client=firefox-b-d&sa=X&bih=582&biw=1252&hl=nl&sxsrf=APwXEdfTsoO4J4fhBAKC-Y8_ir2DWm_ANw:1681803119048&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&vet=1&fir=eok6n-pQVIP_xM%252C2W7HyER_okD5mM%252C%252Fg%252F1238y2pr%253BWvS7AfGgxr_X6M%252CK78pcjQWTAx71M%252C_%253B80UysShyxIEsBM%252CUMDst3Cg0FQdgM%252C_%253BcAxobEWW5aq5XM%252CBcObJlanSz6CfM%252C_%253Bk67AGS5qikD2nM%252CSISuE_xkUOZLFM%252C_%253Bhry8rGgR_VCuUM%252CmWg6K7N8fj1vAM%252C_%253BuX1fnls-rO4QMM%252CCA65bC2f8TtsxM%252C_%253BHWKDfRlHoHkmIM%252CZ0Pq7oGMeo93rM%252C_%253Bn9gmIhNFgu0pUM%252C9eqCokopmsumqM%252C_%253BMUD1KQePhpxEeM%252CAXIjW84IM5veuM%252C_%253Bx3MQkBELJ6PgSM%252Cuz2ZEGwAPqRxiM%252C_&usg=AI4_-kR0tJdAIJ3HdIs3Kx1ues-WgZxyFQ&ved=2ahUKEwiiw_jr9LL-AhX5iP0HHfTxAZ8Q_B16BQiFARAB#imgrc=eok6n-pQVIP_xM
@dijon7, full blown adolf hitler and his adolescent flexing muscles in coming to age dicktator xijinping becomes full blown world champion genocide on his own people mao zedong