Russian President Vladimir Putin has met his commanders in two regions of Ukraine that Moscow claims to have annexed, while Russian forces stepped up heavy artillery bombardments and air strikes on the devastated eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
The Kremlin said Putin had attended a military command meeting in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region and visited a national guard headquarters in eastern Luhansk on Monday.
Putin heard reports from commanders of the airborne forces and the Dnieper army group as well as other senior officers who briefed him on the situation in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south.
Neither Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu nor Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov joined Putin on his trip as a security precaution, the Kremlin said.
A senior Ukrainian presidential aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, took to Twitter to mock Putin’s trip as 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”.
Russian troops retreated from Kherson city, the regional capital, last November, and have been reinforcing their positions on the opposite bank of the Dnipro River in anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
While numerous Western leaders have made their way to Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy since Russian forces invaded 14 months ago, Putin has rarely visited parts of Ukraine under Russian control.
Last month, he visited Crimea – annexed by Russia in 2014 – and the southeastern city of Mariupol in Donetsk region.