(Moscow) Russian President Vladimir Putin has paid a surprise visit to two areas of Ukraine occupied by Moscow, the Kremlin announced on Tuesday, as Kyiv forces prepare for a major spring offensive.

During this trip, the date of which has not been specified, Mr. Putin notably met with military commanders in the Kherson region (south) and in that of Luhansk (east).

Moscow claims the annexation of these two regions that its forces only partially control. The Russian military even suffered a major setback last year in Kherson, being forced to abandon the regional capital of the same name.

The Ukrainian presidency denounced the Russian president’s trip, accusing him of going to the scene of his “crimes”.

This trip “is a” special tour “of the author of mass murders in the occupied territories”, launched on Twitter Mykhaïlo Podoliak, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency.

Shortly after Mr. Putin’s visit was announced, Kyiv reported that a Russian bombardment had injured six people in the city of Kherson.

This is Mr. Putin’s second visit within a month to the area occupied by Moscow in Ukraine, a country where the Russian army has been carrying out a vast military offensive for more than a year.

“ The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation visited the headquarters of the ‘Dnieper’ military group ” in the Kherson region, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Mr. Putin met there with the commander of the Russian airborne forces, General Mikhail Teplinsky, and other senior military officials to discuss the situation in the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions.

This area is regularly mentioned by analysts as the possible theater of an upcoming spring offensive by Ukrainian forces, who are seeking to retake their territory conquered by the Russians.

The area is particularly strategic, because the territories taken by Moscow in the Zaporizhia and Kherson regions form a land continuity between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014. The rupture of this land bridge would be a major setback for Moscow.

According to the Kremlin, Mr. Putin also presented his wishes to soldiers on the occasion of the Orthodox Easter holiday, which was celebrated on Sunday, and offered them “ copies of icons ”.

“It’s important for me to hear your opinion on the situation, to listen to you, to exchange information,” said the Russian president, according to a video released by the Kremlin.

The Russian army had abandoned the city of Kherson, capital of the eponymous region, in November 2022 to retreat to the other side of the Dnieper, a powerful river which today stands between the Russian and Ukrainian armies.

In Luhansk, Putin spoke with members of the Russian National Guard staff deployed there, according to the Kremlin.

In March, he made surprise visits to Crimea (south), a peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, and Mariupol (southeast), a Ukrainian port city taken by the Russians in May 2022 after a devastating siege.

Russia suffered major military setbacks last year, notably failing near Kyiv. She was forced to withdraw not only from the city of Kherson, but also from the Kharkiv region (northeast).

Fierce fighting is currently pitting Russian forces against the Ukrainian army in Bakhmout (east), the epicenter of the conflict and the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle since the start of the Russian offensive.

After about nine months of battle, two-thirds of this city is in Russian hands.

For their part, the Ukrainian military, which in recent weeks has received heavy tanks and long-range guns from its Western allies, has been promising for weeks to launch a new counter-offensive as soon as the weather permits.

Ukraine claims to have formed assault brigades and stored ammunition in anticipation.

Kyiv did not release numbers, but Russian paramilitary group Wagner leader Yevgeni Prigozhin, on the front line in the east, warned that Moscow must be prepared to repel a Ukrainian force of 200,000 to 400,000 men.