Thursday, February 29, 2024

Russia-Ukraine war live: Russian assault on Bakhmut has ‘largely stalled’, says UK ministry

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Russian assault on Bakhmut has ‘largely stalled’, says UK MoD

Russia’s assault on the fiercely contested eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has “largely stalled”, the UK’s Ministry of Defence says.

It said in its latest intelligence update:

This is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force. Ukraine has also suffered heavy casualties during its defence.

The ministry said Russia’s situation had likely been worsened by “tensions between the Russian ministry of defence and Wagner Group, both of whom contribute troops in the sector”.

The battle over Bakhmut has been the longest and bloodiest of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The UK ministry said Russia had probably shifted its operational focus towards Avdiivka, south of Bakhmut, and to the Kremina-Svatove sector in the north – “areas where Russia likely only aspires to stabilise its frontline”.

This suggests an overall return to a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January 2023.

Key events

Dan Sabbagh

Spring has arrived in Ukraine – with late March temperatures an unreasonably high 17C along much of the frontline in the east. It means it is possible to declare, definitively, that the Russian campaign to knock out Ukraine’s power grid has failed, and whatever happens next in the war, its people will not be frozen out of their homes, as was once feared when the cynical bombing campaign began on 10 October.

The reality, of course, was the missile strikes on key infrastructure had been largely abandoned at the end of January, with Russian missile stocks at 10-15% of prewar levels, according to Ukrainian estimates. Moscow’s tactics are changing: Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Kyiv’s military intelligence, said in a TV interview that it appeared military fuel and “logistics systems” were now being targeted.

There has been no shortage of bombing and fighting during the long winter, but in another sense little has happened. The battle for the small Donbas city of Bakhmut rages, as it has since May, but in recent weeks Ukraine’s forces have been pushed back north and south of the city, leaving the urban centre increasingly isolated, its supply roads dangerously exposed. Drone footage depicts a battered urban landscape, although many buildings are still standing and troops are able to shelter in basements.

As the weather turns, so too does talk of a Ukrainian counterattack. Kyiv’s forces are gradually taking delivery of previously promised western tanks, fighting vehicles and other munitions, and some of them have been freshly trained in Britain, Germany or Poland. But the country’s second most important commander, Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, surprised most observers when he suggested, on Thursday, that the place for a counterstrike could be in or around Bakhmut itself.

Russia’s parliament speaker on Saturday proposed banning the activities of the international criminal court (ICC) after the court issued an arrest warrant for president Vladimir Putin, accusing him of the war crimes.

Vyacheslav Volodin, an ally of Putin’s, said that Russian legislation should be amended to prohibit any activity of the ICC in Russia and to punish any who gave “assistance and support” to the ICC.

“It is necessary to work out amendments to legislation prohibiting any activity of the ICC on the territory of our country,” Volodin said in a Telegram post, Reuters reported.

Volodin said that the United States had legislated to prevent its citizens ever being tried by The Hague court and that Russia should continue that work.

Any assistance or support for the ICC inside Russia, he said, should be punishable under law.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant earlier this month accusing Putin of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. It said there are reasonable grounds to believe that Putin bears individual criminal responsibility.

Russian officials have cautioned that any attempt to arrest Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since the last day of 1999, would amount to a declaration of war against the world’s largest nuclear power.

Police in Russia have placed a former speechwriter for President Vladimir Putin on a wanted list for criminal suspects, the latest step in a sweeping crackdown on dissent.

The Associated Press reports that Abbas Gallyamov wrote speeches for Putin during the Russian leader’s 2008-12 stint as prime minister. Gallyamov later became an outspoken political consultant and analyst who was frequently quoted by Russian and foreign media. He has lived abroad in recent years.

On Friday, Russian news outlets and an AP reporter discovered Gallyamov listed in the interior ministry’s database. His entry said he was wanted “in relation to a criminal code article” but did not include the law he was accused of breaking.

Russia’s justice ministry added Gallyamov last month to its register of foreign agents, a designation that brings additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations aimed at undermining the recipient’s credibility.

Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the Russian interior ministry’s board on Monday.
Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the Russian interior ministry’s board on Monday. Photograph: Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

The ministry said Gallyamov “distributed materials created by foreign agents to an unlimited circle of people, spoke out against the special military operation in Ukraine [and] participated as an expert and respondent on information platforms provided by foreign structures”.

Gallyamov told AP on Friday that he learned he was on a wanted list from the media. No law enforcement agency had been in touch, so he didn’t know what charge he faced in Russia.

He said in a phone interview:

I presume that formally it’s the offence of discrediting the army. It is being used against anyone who refuses to amplify the Kremlin’s playbook and tries to conduct an objective, impartial analysis of what’s going on.

Gallyamov described the move against him as part of the Russian government’s “intimidation strategy”.

Russian assault on Bakhmut has ‘largely stalled’, says UK MoD

Russia’s assault on the fiercely contested eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has “largely stalled”, the UK’s Ministry of Defence says.

It said in its latest intelligence update:

This is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force. Ukraine has also suffered heavy casualties during its defence.

The ministry said Russia’s situation had likely been worsened by “tensions between the Russian ministry of defence and Wagner Group, both of whom contribute troops in the sector”.

The battle over Bakhmut has been the longest and bloodiest of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The UK ministry said Russia had probably shifted its operational focus towards Avdiivka, south of Bakhmut, and to the Kremina-Svatove sector in the north – “areas where Russia likely only aspires to stabilise its frontline”.

This suggests an overall return to a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January 2023.

Biden and Trudeau vow ‘steadfast support’ for Ukraine

The US president, Joe Biden, and the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, have displayed a united front against authoritarian regimes as Biden visited the Canadian capital days after the leaders of China and Russia held a Moscow summit.

Reuters reports that images of Biden and Trudeau standing side by side in Ottawa on Friday announcing agreements including on semiconductors and migration represented a counterpoint to the scene in Moscow days ago.

There, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, professed friendship and pledged closer ties as Russia struggles in its war against Ukraine.

At a joint news conference with Trudeau, Biden questioned the level of China and Russia’s cooperation, noting that China has not provided weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine.

Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau during their summit
Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau during their summit. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Biden said the US had expanded alliances including with Nato, the G7, South Korea and the Quad nations of the US, Australia, India and Japan.

We have significantly expanded our alliances. Tell me how in fact you see a circumstance where China has made a significant commitment to Russia. What commitment can they make?

Addressing Canada’s parliament, Biden said that, as Nato members, the two countries would “defend every inch of Nato territory”.

Trudeau told the news conference that Ukraine was a top issue:

Today we reaffirmed our steadfast support for the Ukrainian people as they defend themselves against Putin’s brutal and barbaric invasion.

Opening summary

Hello and welcome back to our live coverage of the war in Ukraine. This is Adam Fulton to bring you up to speed with the latest developments.

The leaders of the US and Canada, Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau, have met in Ottawa and reaffirmed their “steadfast support” for Ukraine just days after the Russian and Chinese presidents held their summit in Moscow.

Biden questioned the level of China and Russia’s cooperation, noting that China had not provided weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine.

Trudeau said: “Today we reaffirmed our steadfast support for the Ukrainian people as they defend themselves against Putin’s brutal and barbaric invasion.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s assault on the besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has “largely stalled”, the UK Ministry’s of Defence says.

“This is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing. “Ukraine has also suffered heavy casualties during its defence.”

More on both of those stories shortly.

In other key developments just after 9am in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv:

  • At least 10 civilians were killed and 20 wounded from long-range Russian bombardments in several parts of Ukraine on Friday, officials said. The casualties included two people who died in heavy Russian shelling of the town of Bilopillia in Sumy province in northern Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said.

  • The United Nations has said it is “deeply concerned” by what it said were summary executions of prisoners of war by both Russian and Ukrainian forces on the battlefield. A new report from the UN’s office of the high commissioner for human rights said its monitors had documented dozens of the executions by both sides, that the actual number was likely higher and that they “may constitute war crimes”.

  • The Russian former president Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was readying for a Ukrainian counteroffensive that “everyone knows” Kyiv is preparing for. Medvedev, who is deputy chair of Putin’s powerful security council, warned that Moscow was ready to use “absolutely any weapon” if Ukraine attempted to retake the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.

  • Russian forces attacked northern and southern stretches of the front in eastern Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region on Friday. Ukrainian military reports described heavy fighting along a line running from Lyman to Kupiansk, as well as in the south at Avdiivka on the outskirts of the Russian-held city of Donetsk.

Residents wait to receive aid packages in the frontline city of Avdiivka
Residents wait to receive aid packages in the frontline city of Avdiivka. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • The US president, Joe Biden, said he believed China had not yet sent arms to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. “I’ve been hearing now for the past three months China is going to provide significant weapons to Russia … They haven’t yet,” he told a news conference on Friday. “Doesn’t mean they won’t, but they haven’t yet.”

  • Ukraine claimed Russian forces were “running out of steam” in Bakhmut and its commanders have started to raise the prospect of an unlikely turnaround in the besieged eastern Ukrainian city.

  • Three women were among at least five people killed after a Russian missile struck one of the “invincibility points” providing refuge and basic services for Ukrainian civilians in the eastern city of Kostiantynivka in the Donetsk region, local officials said. The Russians attacked overnight on Thursday with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, prosecutors said

  • Air force commanders from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark have agreed to create a unified Nordic air defence aimed at countering the rising threat from Russia, they said. The intention is to be able to operate jointly based on already known ways of operating under Nato, according to statements by the four countries’ armed forces. The Danish air force commander, Major General Jan Dam, said: “Our combined fleet can be compared to a large European country.”

  • About 10,000 civilians, many of them elderly and with disabilities, are living in “very dire conditions” in and around Bakhmut, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Several thousand civilians were estimated to remain in the city itself and be “spending almost the entire days in intense shelling in the shelters”, the ICRC’s Umar Khan said.

A woman keeps notes and uses her phone in a home yard in the town of Chasiv Yar, near Bakhmut
A woman keeps notes and uses her phone in a home yard in the town of Chasiv Yar, near Bakhmut. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
  • The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said the “friendship” between China and Russia has limits, and that Europe should welcome any attempts by Beijing to distance itself from Moscow’s war in Ukraine. He said China “has not crossed any red lines for us”, adding that Beijing’s proposals to end the war showed it did not want to fully align with Russia.

  • The bodies of 83 Ukrainian soldiers killed fighting in the war have been returned from the Russian side, a Ukrainian official said. Separately, Kyiv said it handed over an undisclosed number of seriously wounded Russian soldiers.

  • Seven Ukrainian children have been reunited with their families after being forcibly taken to Russian-occupied Crimea, the Kherson regional military administration said.

  • The security situation around the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv will have to improve before its ports can be included in a deal allowing the safe export of Ukrainian grain, a senior Ukrainian official has said. The deal was extended this month, but Kyiv and Moscow differ over how long the extension will last.

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