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Ukraine updates: Kyiv generals vow to keep defending Bakhmut

March 7, 2023

Ukrainian generals have stressed withdrawing from Bakhmut is not yet on the table. Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities accuse Russia of shooting a prisoner of war on camera. DW has rounded up the latest.

Ukrainian BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle in Bakhmut
Ukrainian service members ride a BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle in BakhmutImage: Yevhen Titov/REUTERS

Ukrainian top generals have vowed to continue to defend the contended eastern city of Bakhmut amid reports suggesting that Russia is inching closer to capturing it.

After months of fighting in and around Bakhmut, Russian forces remain adamant about capturing the city, which would be their first significant battlefield victory in some six months.

Western strategists and officials suggest a Russian occupation of the city would be of more symbolic than strategic value.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, however, said control of Bakhmut would allow Moscow's forces to mount further attacks deeper inside Ukraine.

"The city is an important hub for defending Ukrainian troops in the Donbas. Taking it under control will allow further offensive actions to be conducted deep into Ukraine's defensive lines," he said.

Reports from the battlefield suggest that Ukrainian troops have recently been reinforcing positions west of the city, apparently preparing to withdraw.

However, in his nightly address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he held discussions with top generals and they agreed "not to withdraw."

"The command unanimously supported this position. There were no other positions. I told the commander-in-chief to find the appropriate forces to help our guys in Bakhmut," Zelenskyy said.

The battle has drained both sides' artillery reserves, with thousands of shells fired daily.

Ukraine says it will continue defending Bakhmut

The Russian Wagner mercenary force, which is leading the assault, has pleaded for more ammunition to secure a victory.

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has been vocal about a deepening rift with the Russian Defense Ministry amid rising rivalry between the two bodies on the Ukrainian battlefield.

"I'm knocking on all doors and sounding the alarm about ammunition and reinforcements, as well as the need to cover our flanks," Reuters quoted him as saying in a statement.

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Tuesday, March 7:

Stoltenberg says increase in Ukraine aid urgently needed

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stressed the need for additional military aid to Ukraine shortly before a meeting of EU defense ministers in Sweden.

The urgent need to increase and maintain support was discussed, Stoltenberg said on the sidelines of talks with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Stockholm.

This has become a war of attrition and so it is also a battle for logistics, he said, adding that it is now important that armaments production is increased.

In this context, Stoltenberg welcomed the fact that work is being done on joint ammunition procurement by EU states. NATO has been working on joint procurement for years, he said.

First eight confiscated cars to be sent from Latvia to Ukraine

According to Latvian public broadcaster LSM, the Latvian government authorized the handover of eight vehicles confiscated from drunk drivers to Ukrainian hospitals and army units.

The cars are being sent due to rapid changes in the law, meaning vehicles confiscated by the state from drunk drivers can now be sent to help Ukraine in its defense against Russian invasion.

The original owners receive no compensation, making their decision to drink and drive an extremely costly decision.

Canada extends Ukraine combat engineer training mission

Canada is extending its mission to train Ukrainian combat engineers until October and deploying medical trainers too, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced during a joint news conference with visiting EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Speaking at a military base in Kingston, Ontario, Trudeau also pledged Canadian $3 million (€2 million, $2.2 million) for de-mining efforts in Ukraine and vowed with the EU to deliver generators to Ukraine, which has suffered repeated attacks on its power grid since the Russian invasion began a year ago.

The mission to train combat engineers had been due to conclude in the near future. "Canada will stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine as long as it takes," Trudeau said.

Ottawa has committed more than Canadian $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine over the past year, including Leopard 2 tanks, other armored vehicles, surface-to-air missiles, howitzers and munitions.

For her part, von der Leyen welcomed Ottawa's commitment while recalling that the EU has spent more than €12 billion on military equipment for Ukraine and intends to complete training as many as 30,000 Ukrainian troops by the end of the year.   

US says Russia should be ashamed after unarmed Ukrainian soldier killed on video

The US is aware of the "harrowing" footage of an unarmed Ukrainian soldier killed on video in Ukraine, the State Department said, adding that Russia should be ashamed for flouting basic rules of war.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a regular press briefing that the US was "not naive" to believe that Russia would admit to the killing, but said it was not the first evidence of apparent atrocities committed by Russian forces.

Scholz says Russia's war against Ukraine could last much longer

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine could last for a long time. "We have to fear that this will take longer, although of course every day we wish it was different," he said at a question and answer session with citizens in Cottbus.

The war was associated with "unbelievable losses" on both sides, said Scholz. Russia alone has lost between 30,000 to 40,000 and 100,000 soldiers. "Both would be unimaginable amounts," he said.

As a consequence of this new situation, Scholz spoke out in favor of closer integration of the Bundeswehr and the armaments industry, for example to prevent ammunition shortages.

Ukraine seeks support for Africa grain deliveries

Ukraine appealed for international efforts to keep open Black Sea shipping lanes used to carry millions of tonnes of grain to African nations.

A Ukrainian envoy told the Least Developed Countries summit in Doha that 2.7 million tons of grain have been shipped since November. Ukraine at that time launched its Grain from Ukraine program, mainly for poorer African states.

Ukraine plans to send at least 60 more vessels "to the most affected by hunger and drought countries across Africa and Asia," added Maksym Subkh, Ukraine's special envoy to the Middle East and Africa.     

Russia imposed a blockade of Ukrainian ports until the United Nations along with Turkey brokered a deal to allow grain shipments to resume in July.

Subkh called on UN members to "unite efforts for ensuring of uninterrupted functioning of the Black Sea grain corridor."

Hundreds mourn Ukrainian saboteurs killed in Russia

Hundreds of mourners packed a Kyiv church for the funeral of volunteers killed on a sabotage mission in Russia. 

Mourners, many in camouflage and covering their faces, attended a service in a central church for four men killed in December during an incursion into Russia's southern Bryansk region.

The men's coffins were draped with the banner of a nationalist battalion called Bratstvo, or Brotherhood, created on the basis of a party of the same name.

They were in "one of the reconnaissance sabotage groups of Bratstvo that take part in raids at the enemy's rear, both in the occupied territories," the leader of the Brotherhood party Dmytro Korchynsky said, adding, as well as "on Russian soil."  

"They were killed during one of those raids," Korchynsky noted.

Korchynsky said the battalion when in Russia acts "at its own risk" and does not coordinate with Ukrainian armed forces. The Ukrainian army officially does not fight against Moscow beyond the country's borders.

Ukraine denies involvement in attempted sabotage at Belarus air field

Ukraine's foreign ministry denied that Kyiv was involved in attempted sabotage at a Belarusian air field last month.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko alleged that Ukrainian and US intelligence services were involved in the drone attack in late February which was claimed by Belarusian anti-government activists.

"It is clear that this is another attempt to create an artificial threat from Ukraine," Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said in a statement.

US intelligence suggests pro-Ukrainian group sabotaged Nord Stream pipelines — report

New intelligence reviewed by US officials suggests that a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines last year, The New York Times reported.

There was no evidence that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or his top lieutenants in Ukraine were involved in the operation, or that the perpetrators were acting at the direction of any Ukrainian government officials, the newspaper reported, citing US officials.

According to The New York Times, US officials said there was much they did not know about the perpetrators and their affiliations. The review of newly collected intelligence suggests they were opponents of President Vladimir Putin of Russia but does not specify the members of the group, or who directed or paid for the operation.

Officials believed the saboteurs were most likely Ukrainian or Russian nationals, or some combination of the two, and no American or British nationals were involved, The New York Times reported.

Separately, the German weekly Die Zeit reported that German investigators identified the yacht used by the saboteur team.

According to joint research by ARD, SWR and Die Zeit, a yacht rented from a Poland-based company apparently belongs to two Ukrainians.

However, investigators have so far found no evidence as to who commissioned the destruction of the pipelines and the nationality of saboteurs is also unclear, Die Zeit reported.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to Zelenskyy, said that Kyiv was "absolutely not involved" in last year's attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines and has no information about what happened.

Russia's deputy UN envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy said that a report "only proves that our initiative on launching an international investigation under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General is very timely."

Russia plans to call a vote in the UN Security Council by the end of March on its draft resolution asking Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish such an inquiry.

Ukraine and Russia exchange prisoners of war

Ukraine and Russia conducted another exchange of prisoners of war. According to Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, 130 Ukrainian soldiers (126 men and four women) have been returned home from Russian captivity.

The Russian defense ministry said that 90 Russian prisoners of war have been returned from Ukraine after talks, RIA state-run news agency reported.

Russian activist sentenced over 'false information' on Ukraine

A court in Moscow has sentenced student activist Dmitry Ivanov to eight years and six months in prison for social media posts criticizing Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Ivanov, 23, was convicted of spreading false information about the Russian army.

The student's Telegram channel called the conflict in Ukraine a "war" and spoke of Russian forces attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure and committing war crimes in the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha and Irpin.

Ivanov called the charges against him "absurd" and said the crime he was being prosecuted for "shouldn't exist at all."

"The investigation in trying to accuse me of spreading 'fakes,' has built one big fake (itself)," Ivanov said in his final address to the court. "I … stand by every word I wrote a year ago."

How to win the war against fake news

During Ivanov's trial, the Moscow court approved the defense team's request to subpoena Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov and UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya. Ivanov's defense argued that authorities had used the officials' statements to show that the student had posted false information.

None of the officials complied with the subpoenas.

Ivanov's Telegram channel, Protest MSU, was launched in 2018 to cover student protests against the building of a fan zone for the World Cup next to Moscow State University's main building.

Ivanov was jailed for 10 days and then 25 days for organizing unauthorized rallies. He failed to submit his final dissertation while in custody and was expelled from the university.

Ukrainian POW shot in video 'provisionally' identified — Kyiv

The Ukrainian army says that it has "provisionally" determined the identity of a Ukrainian prisoner of war that was allegedly shot by Russian soldiers.

On Monday, a video showed the apparent shooting of the unnamed soldier.

Ukraine's army said that the man had been listed as missing near the eastern city of Bakhmut since February 3.

The 30th Mechanized Brigade on its Facebook page named the man as Tymofii Shadura. The identification is based on preliminary information and is not final, it said.

The soldier can only be conclusively identified once the body has been found.

Reckoning Project documents Russian atrocities in Ukraine

Thousands in Ukraine require medical care, WHO officials say

The WHO says that thousands in Ukraine have sustained complex injuries due to the war.

Dr. Satish Mishra, from the WHO's regional office for Europe, told a media briefing that Ukraine requires rehabilitation services and equipment to help those injured.

Mishra said that attacks on healthcare facilities, displacement and power shortages were making it difficult for people to access care.

Dr. Cathal Morgan, also of the WHO, said that about half the population of Ukraine could have benefited from rehabilitation services even before the war for conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Ukraine orders Ferrexpo share seizure over embezzlement claims

A Ukrainian court has ordered the seizure of shares owned by billionare Kostyantyn Zhevago in iron pellet producer Ferrexpo.

The ruling came following compensation claims over Zhevago's now bankrupt bank, Ukraine's Deposit Guarantee Fund said.

Zhevago is under investigation in Ukraine on suspicion of embezzlement and mondey laundering.

The billionaire told the Reuters news agency that his prosecution as political and denied wrongdoing.

The Fund said it was seeking to recover nearly 46 billion hryvnias ($1.25 billion, €1.17 billion) in damages.

Kyiv is seeking to tackle corruption as part of Ukraine's bid to join the European Union as well as to secure continued Western aid.

UN head to discuss grain deal in Ukraine

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to discuss extending a deal between Moscow and Ukraine that allows the export of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea amid the war.

Guterres is headed for Kyiv on Wednesday, where he is set to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and discuss extending the deal, which was brokered by the UN and Turkey last summer to alleviate the impact of the war on global food security.

UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the secretary general will discuss upholding the deal "in all its aspects and other pertinent issues." 

The agreement, signed last July and extended once in November, is due to expire on March 18. Last week, Ukrainian officials urged both the UN and Ankara to seek a renewal. 

German defense minister lukewarm on permanent Baltic deployment  

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius vowed a "permanent" German military presence in Lithuania during a joint press conference with Lithuanian counterpart Arvydas Anusauskas.

Pistorius said that the alliance must decide on the right balance between "deterrence" and "flexibility," expressing reservations on establishing a permanent German brigade in Lithuania.

However, the minister said that regardless of the exact form of the support, there will "definitely be a strong, permanent presence of German units in Lithuania."

Pistorius said that he believed NATO allies would decide on "further steps" during a summit in Lithuanian capital Vilnius this summer.

Anusauskas called for a "stronger presence" of NATO allies on the alliance's eastern flank in order to provide military "deterrence" against Russia. "NATO's defense beings here," he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Pistorius said Berlin is committed to protecting its NATO partners but expressed skepticism about permanently stationing a Bundeswehr brigade in Lithuania — as called for by the Baltic country.

While on a visit to joint Lithuanian-German military exercises, Pistorius said it would observe the military alliance's mutual defense pact "with no ifs or buts."

The minister said a German unit that traveled to Lithuania, the armored infantry brigade 41, had proven capable of easily deploying there, noting that the troops covered 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) from Germany "in record time " with only one vehicle breakdown.

Some 1,450 soldiers from Germany are presently stationed in Lithuania, including parts of the brigade involved in the exercises.

After visiting the troops, Pistorius was sent to hold military policy talks with counterparts in the capital, Vilnius.

Poland to send 10 more Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

Warsaw has announced it intends to send 10 extra Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, as Kyiv finally receives much demanded heavy-tanks to support its fight against Russia.

The tanks will arrive this week, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said Tuesday.

Poland already sent four Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine late last month. It had pledged 14 tanks in total.

In late January, Berlin green lighted the decision to supply Ukraine with the state-of-the art tanks, after much hesitation due to concern regarding provoking Russia or prolonging the war. The German government also allowed other countries who own the Leopard 2, such as Poland, to send them to Ukraine.

Belarus detains activists over air field sabotage

Belarus detained over 20 people for attempted sabotage at a Belarusian airfield, the country's leader, Alexander Lukashenko, was cited as saying.

Lukashenko accused an individual described as a "terrorist" and over 20 of his accomplices of working with Ukrainian and US intelligence services.

Last month, anti-government activists announced blowing up a sophisticated Russian military surveillance aircraft at an airfield near Minsk. Moscow and Minsk had disputed the claim at the time.

On Tuesday, Belarusian state news agency Belta cited Lukashenko as saying the targeted aircraft only suffered superficial damage, acknowledging that the attack was carried out using a drone.

The detained suspect is a dual Russian-Ukrainian national, Belta reported, citing Lukashenko.

Lukashenko reportedly added that other suspects in the attack were hiding abroad. 

Acts of sabotage in Belarus, which shares a border with both Ukraine and Russia, have been common since Russia invaded Ukraine over a year ago.

The country's autocratic leader Lukashenko is dependent on the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kremlin says it doesn't recognize Western oil price cap

The Kremlin said it does not recognize the US-orchestrated and Western-enforced price cap on Russian oil, set as a sanction for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"We do not and will not recognize any cap. We are working so that this system does not harm our own interests," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The cap was enforced late last year, amid a raft of sanctions aimed at drying up Russian resources it has been tapping into to fund the war in Ukraine. 

On Monday, US energy envoy Amos Hochstein said the cap was making an impact.

"I think the beauty of the process is that it is working and that Russian oil and Russian products are being traded below the price cap," he said.

Moscow, which accounts for some 10% of global oil supplies, sells its Urals blend at a steep discount to international marker Brent. 

Kyiv starts talks to prolong grain export deal

Ukraine has started talks with partners on extending the Black Sea Grain Initiative to ensure Kyiv can continue shipping grain to the global market, a senior Ukrainian government source told Reuters news agency.

The source said Ukraine had not held discussions with Russia, which blockaded Ukrainian Black Sea ports after its invasion last year, but that it was Kyiv's understanding that its partners were talking to Moscow.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was brokered by the UN and Turkey last July and was extended in November. It is due to expire on March 18.

Moscow court jails man over posts about military

A Moscow court has sentenced Dmitry Ivanov, a former mathematics student and creator of the Protest MGU telegram channel, to more than eight years in a penal colony. 

Ivanov was tried under a section of law about "military fakes" for posts about Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities. He was prosecuted over 11 posts that dealt with, among other things, the events of March last year in Bucha, where Russian troops are alleged to have committed war crimes, and the shelling of Mariupol. 

Ivanov pleaded not guilty and maintained that the information in his posts was true.

"Literally the entire indictment, from the first to the last word, is contrary to reality. I subscribe to every word that I wrote a year ago," he said. 

The Timiryazevsky Court of Moscow, which found 23-year-old Ivanov guilty of spreading "fake news" about the Russian army, also banned him from being an administrator on internet and social media sites for four years after his release. The prosecution had asked the court to sentence Ivanov to nine years in prison.

Ukraine investigates 'Russia's prisoner of war' shooting

Ukraine's investigative department is treating the incident of a purported shooting of a seemingly Ukrainian unarmed man at the hands of what are believed to have been Russian forces as a crime, the country's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said.

A video circulated on social media on Monday, causing an outcry in Ukraine. The video shows what appears to be an unarmed man in uniform with a Ukrainian flag insignia on his arm. The man is heard saying "Slava Ukraini," which means "Glory to Ukraine," before multiple shots are heard and the man is seen collapsing as bullets hit his body.

A voice is heard telling him to "die" in Russian.

In a statement on Monday, Kostin tweeted that the video "shocked Ukrainian society" and was being investigated under Ukraine's criminal code.

Kostin stressed that "even war has laws," accusing Russian forces of "systematically" neglecting international law.

China claims countries have hidden agenda in the war

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang claimed that an "invisible hand" has been "using the Ukraine crisis to serve certain geopolitical agendas."

During his first press conference since becoming China's top diplomat on Tuesday, Qin said that China believes any peace talks must respect the "legitimate security concerns of all parties."

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang attends a news conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China March 7, 2023.
China's new top diplomat has accused an "invisible hand" of serving a geopolitical agenda in the warImage: Thomas Peter/REUTERS

He also appeared to urge countries to soften punitive measures toward Russia by saying, "Sanctions and pressure will not solve the problem."

In a recent position paper on China's stance on the war, Beijing called for dialogue but did not propose new initiatives for peace talks.

While Russia has grown increasingly isolated on the international stage since it launched the war, its ties with China have been growing.

In the year since the war erupted, China has not yet condemned Russia's move to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

More on the war in Ukraine

To avoid international sanctions imposed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the country's chess federation is set to switch from the European Chess Union to the Asian Chess Federation.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the battle for Bakhmut was unlikely to "change the tide of the war." Ukrainian forces are said to be in a "painful and difficult" battle in the Donbas. Read our updates from Monday here.

rmt,sdi/sms,ar (AFP, Reuters)