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Ukraine updates: Fighting around Bakhmut 'extremely tense'

February 28, 2023

Russian forces have intensified their attack around the Ukrainian town, Kyiv said. Meanwhile, the top US diplomat is visiting Central Asia in a bid to boost Washington's influence in the region. DW rounds up the latest.

Ukrainian service members ride tanks, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near the frontline town of Bakhmut
Ukrainian service members ride tanks, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near the frontline town of BakhmutImage: Alex Babenko/REUTERS

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukrainian ground forces, said on Tuesday that the situation around the eastern town of Bakhmut was "extremely tense." 

"Despite significant losses, the enemy threw in the most prepared assault units of Wagner, who are trying to break through the defenses of our troops and surround the city," Syrskyi was quoted as saying on Ukraine's Media Military Center Telegram messaging platform.

Russia's mercenary Wagner Group has played a significant role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The small mining city of Bakhmut has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks

Capturing it would open the way for Russia to control urban centers in the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk region, and would represent the first major win for Moscow in months. 

Ukraine's general staff said Russia intensified its forces in Bakhmut and was shelling settlements around the city.

"The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions for fortification and defence. Our soldiers defending the area around Bakhmut are true heroes," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening video address. 

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Tuesday, February 28:

Russia to join Asia's chess federation

Russia's governing body for chess said it had been admitted into the game's Asian federation and will leave Europe as Russian players face restrictions over Moscow's assault in Ukraine. The switch will take place on May 1.

The shift, finalized by a vote at the Asian Chess Summit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, comes as other Russian sports federations, including football, are considering a similar switch.

The head of the Chess Federation of Russia Andrei Filatov hailed the move as a "historic event." "For the first time, a chess federation, one of the strongest in the world, has moved from one continent to another," Filatov was quoted as saying in a statement.

Russia fights to encircle Ukraine's Bakhmut

The Russian-led world governing body of chess, FIDE, suspended Russia from international team chess tournaments in March last year, shortly after President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine. Most notably, this led to the country not competing in last year's Olympiad, which was also moved from Russia to Chennai, India at short notice. 

But the governing body, headed by Arkady Dvorkovich, a former Russian deputy prime minister, still allows Russian individuals to compete in individual events under the FIDE flag. 

In August, Dvorkovich was re-elected as president of FIDE, beating Ukrainian grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets.

US does not see significant near-term Russian gains in Ukraine — Pentagon

The United States does not expect Russia to make significant territorial gains in Ukraine in the near-term, a senior Pentagon official said, describing the front lines in the year-long war as a "grinding slog."

"You may see small portions of territory change hands in the coming weeks and months. I do not think that there's anything I see that suggests the Russians can sweep across Ukraine and make significant territorial gains anytime in the next year or so," Colin Kahl, the US under secretary of defense for policy, told a House of Representatives hearing.

He was asked repeatedly by lawmakers about sending combat jets to Ukraine. Biden has ruled out delivering jets for now and Kahl said it could take 18-24 months to deliver existing F-16s, with new ones taking months longer.

He added that Ukraine wanted the jets but it was not its top priority. "It is a priority for the Ukrainians, but it is not one of their top three priorities," Kahl said.

Kahl also said that there was "no evidence" Ukraine was misusing the tens of billions in aid provided since Russia invaded last year.

Finland starts construction of Russian border fence

Finland has begun construction of its planned 200-kilometre (124-mile) fence on the Russian border, the country's border guard said.

Terrain work would begin on Tuesday "with forest clearance and will proceed in such a way that road construction and fence installation can be started in March," the Finnish Border Guard said in a statement.

The three-kilometer pilot project at the southeastern border crossing in Imatra is expected to be completed by the end of June, it added.

Construction of a further 70 kilometers, mainly in southeastern Finland, will take place between 2023 and 2025. In total, Finland plans to fence 200 kilometers of its 1,300-kilometer border with Russia at a cost of around €380 million (around $400 million).

The fence will be over 3 meters tall with barbed wire at the top, with particularly sensitive areas equipped with night vision cameras, lights and loudspeakers.

Putin signs law suspending New START disarmament treaty

According to the Kremlin, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a law halting Russian involvement in the New START treaty.

The president announced the step in his address to the nation on February 21. He stressed in his speech that this was not an exit from the agreement. For the time being, Russia wants to continue to adhere to the agreed upper limits for nuclear weapons.

The New START disarmament treaty is the only remaining major arms control agreement between the US and Russia. The treaty limits the nuclear arsenals of both countries to 800 delivery systems and 1,550 operational warheads each.

Meanwhile, Putin has called on his country's FSB domestic intelligence service to step up counter-intelligence efforts against Western intelligence agencies.

The latter have expanded their work against Russia, so counter-intelligence must also be strengthened, Putin told FSB officers in a speech broadcast on state television.

Ukraine urges UN and Turkey to start talks to extend grain deal — source

"Ukraine has sent an appeal to the UN and Turkey to start negotiations on extending a grain export deal, but there has been no response," Reuters quoted a Ukrainian government source as saying on Tuesday.

Yuriy Vaskov, Ukraine's deputy minister of restoration, told Reuters last week that Kyiv would ask all sides to start talks to roll over the deal, seeking an extension of at least one year that would include the ports of Mykolaiv.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative brokered by the UN and Turkey last July allowed grain to be exported from three Ukrainian ports. The agreement was extended in November and will expire on March 18 unless an extension is agreed.

"We have sent a letter requesting that we start dealing with this issue as March 18 is very soon, but we have not had any feedback so far," a source said.

Despite a decrease in the 2022 grain harvest to around 54 million metric tons from a record 86 million in 2021, at least 30 million tons of grain are still in Ukrainian silos and could be exported, according to the agriculture ministry.

Drone crashes near Moscow

A drone has crashed near a natural gas distribution station about 110 km (70 miles) southeast of Moscow, the region's governor said.

Governor Andrei Vorobyov said the incident near the town of Kolomna was likely targeting "a civilian infrastructure facility." 

"There are no casualties or damage on the ground. The FSB and other competent authorities are investigating," he added.

Unverified images posted to Russian social media appeared to show the wreckage of a drone lying in a snowdrift at the edge of a forest near Kolomna. 

Ukraine, which does not publicly claim responsibility for attacks inside Russia, has not commented on the incident.

If it did launch the drone, it would be its closest attempted strike to the Russian capital since Moscow's invasion over a year ago.

Earlier, Russia's Defense Ministry said it had downed two Ukrainian drones in the southern Russian regions of Krasnodar and Adygea.

Russia mounts repeated attacks around Bakhmut

Russian court fines Wikipedia owner over 'misinformation'

A Russian court has slapped the Wikimedia Foundation with a fine of 2 million rubles (roughly €25,000, $27,000) after authorities accused it of "spreading misinformation" about the Russian military. 

Wikimedia, which owns Wikipedia, has already faced fines in Russia. Last year, it was fined for not deleting two articles about the war.

The organization said it was considering appealing the ruling, but it had not yet made a decision.

"So far, in the history of courts in Russia, Wikipedia has only had one successful experience of appealing court verdicts," the head of the foundation's Russian chapter, Stanislav Kozlovskiy, told Reuters news agency.

Ukraine war fact check: 1 year since Russia's invasion, 1 year of disinformation warfare

Russia reports failed drone attacks

Russia's Defense Ministry accused Kyiv of launching attempted drone strikes against civil infrastructure targets in two southern Russian regions overnight. The ministry said the alleged attacks had failed.

"Overnight, the Kyiv authorities attempted to use unmanned aerial vehicles to attack civilian infrastructure facilities in the Krasnodar and Adygea regions," the ministry said in a statement.

It added that its anti-drone defense systems had repelled the attacks. 

"Both drones lost control and deviated from their flight paths. One fell into a field, the other, deviating from its trajectory, did not harm the intended target," it said.

Before the ministry's statement, Russian state news agencies had reported a fire at an oil depot in the Krasnodar region, around 240 kilometers (149 miles) southeast of the Crimean peninsula.

Earlier on Tuesday, Russia's Ministry of Emergency Situations said several regional television and radio stations broadcast air raid alerts after a hacking attack. 

According to Russian media, alerts were broadcast in the Belgorod and Voronezh regions bordering Ukraine.

"As a result of hacking of servers of radio stations and TV channels, in some regions of the country, information about the announcement of an air raid alert was broadcast," the ministry said in a statement.

"This information is false and does not correspond to reality," it added.

The ministry said a similar cyber attack had triggered air raid sirens across Russia last week.

NATO chief says Ukraine will join the alliance in the 'long-term'

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine would become part of the military alliance in the future, but stressed that in the meantime it's important that the country "prevails as a sovereign independent nation" in the face of Russia's invasion. 

"NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member of our alliance, but at the same time that is a long-term perspective," Stoltenberg told reporters during a visit to Finland's capital, Helsinki.

Moscow has cited its worries about what it claims is a NATO eastward expansion as one of its reasons to launch what it describes as a "special military operation" against Ukraine, as Kyiv has ambitions to join the alliance. 

Stoltenberg was speaking alongside Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, whose country — which borders Russia — has joined Sweden in dropping decadeslong policies of military non-alignment and is seeking to join NATO. 

"The time has come" for Hungary and Turkey to ratify NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, Stoltenberg said, as Budapest and Ankara continue to block the ratification. 

Belarus' Lukashenko talks Ukraine in Beijing 

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, kicking off a three-day trip in which he will meet his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. 

A key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko's visit comes after Beijing clarified its position on Russia's war in Ukraine, calling for dialogue between the two sides

Ahead of the trip, Beijing hailed its "all-weather and comprehensive" strategic partnership with Minsk.

In an interview with China's state-run Xinhua news agency, the Belarusian leader praised Beijing's statement as "a testimony to its peaceful foreign policy as well as a new and original step that will have a far-reaching impact all over the world." 

In September last year, Xi and Lukashenko met in the Uzbek city of Samarkand, where they again hailed their "all-weather" partnership.

Lukashenko's Beijing visit also comes as the EU extended its sanctions on Belarus over Minsk's repression of political opposition and its support for Russia's war. 

Germany's Rheinmetall to supply reconnaissance systems 

Germany's industrial giant Rheinmetall has said it won an order in the double-digit million-euro range to supply Ukraine with automated reconnaissance systems. 

In a statement, Rheinmetall said it was now cooperating with the Estonian company DefSecIntel to provide the SurveilSPIRE systems, consisting of mobile surveillance towers with day and night-capable camera equipment, autopiloted mini drones and a control system. 

The company added that the products' delivery had already begun. 

Russia not open to giving up disputed regions 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia was open to negotiations to end the Ukraine conflict but that new "territorial realities" could not be ignored. 

The comments were made in reference to China's support for a negotiated solution to the conflict. 

Russia proclaimed it had annexed the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions last September, something that Kyiv and the West have slammed as illegal. 

But now those regions have been named as constituent subjects of the Russian Federation in a constitutional decree. 

"The constitution of the Russian Federation exists, and cannot be ignored. Russia will never be able to compromise on this, these are important realities," Peskov added. 

Ukraine has said that no peace plan can be discussed unless Russian troops abandon all occupied territories, including the four annexed regions and the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow unilaterally annexed from Ukraine in 2014. 

Blinken on Central Asia trip 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kazakhstan for a Central Asia trip following the first anniversary of Russia's war in Ukraine.

During a meeting with his Kazakh counterpart, Blinken vowed US support for the country's independence. 

"As you know well, the United States strongly supports Kazakhstan's sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity," Blinken said.

"Sometimes we just say those words and they actually have no meaning. And of course, in this particular time, they have even more resonance than usual," he added, referring to Russia's assault on Ukraine.

Blinken later held talks with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and was set to fly to Uzbekistan afterward.

In Astana, the top US diplomat is due to meet the ministers of all five former Soviet republics in Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The five countries abstained or did not vote last week to back a UN General Assembly resolution calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. 

UN resolution urges Russia's withdrawal from Ukraine

Wrecked Russian tank to be exhibited in the Netherlands

German police said on Tuesday that the destroyed Russian tank that had been on display in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin had been removed. 

The T-72 tank was displayed in front of the embassy in the German capital's city center to serve as a memorial against the war on the first anniversary of Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

The organizers of the project said it would be exhibited in the Netherlands next. 

According to the organizers, the tank was destroyed when it hit a mine during a Russian attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in March. 

The vehicle is on loan from the Military History Museum of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, which also supported its transport. 

Destroyed Russian tank in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin
The tank was placed in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin to mark the one-year anniversary of the warImage: Bernd Friedel/IMAGO

Peskov says 'a bit early' to tell if Putin will run for reelection

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet said if he would run for the country's next presidential election, scheduled for 2024. 

"We have not yet heard him say anything about whether he will run or not. That means it is still a bit early," Peskov told Moscow daily Izvestia in comments published on Tuesday.

Peskov added that Putin was currently very busy and not in the mood to campaign.

Putin served as Russia's president from 2000 to 2008, and since 2012. He was prime minister from 1999 to 2000 and from 2008 to 2012. 

Ukraine spy chief says 'no signs' China arming Russia 

Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine's military intelligence chief, said in an interview that he saw no signs that China and Russia were in discussions about arms supplies. 
"As of now, I do not think that China will agree to the transfer of weapons to Russia," Budanov told Voice of America (VOA). "I do not see any signs that such things are even being discussed."

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had information that suggested China was considering providing Russia with "lethal support."

Several media outlets have since reported, citing unidentified senior US officials, that Beijing was deciding whether to supply Moscow with drones and munitions as Russia suffers heavy losses in its war in Ukraine. 

"I am the head of intelligence and I rely, with all due respect, not on the opinions of individual people, but only on facts. I do not see such facts," Budanov said. 

The military intelligence chief added that "almost the only country that actually transfers more or less serious weapons [to Russia] is Iran."

Budanov dismissal of the claims came after Beijing called for a cease-fire as part of a peace plan it proposed. 

China's proposal has been largely met with skepticism, but Kyiv has sought to improve its ties with Beijing, Moscow's key ally. 

Growing concerns that China may send weapons to Russia

More DW coverage

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A Mission Against the War

 fb/nm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, Interfax)