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Ukraine updates: Kyiv prepares for counterassault

March 24, 2023

Plans for the counteroffensive come as Russia pushes forth its attempt to capture Bakhmut. Meanwhile, Medvedev has threatened that Russia might attack Kyiv or Lviv. DW rounds up the latest.

Ukrainian soldiers practice with various weapons in the open field as military mobility continues within the Russian-Ukrainian war in Donetsk Oblast
Ukraine is preparing a counteroffensive after months of defeninng against Russia attacksImage: Diego Herrera Carcedo/AA/picture alliance

Ukrainian troops are reportedly preparing for a counterattack, after months on the defensive amid Russia's ongoing campaign to capture the eastern town of Bakhmut.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, Ukraine's top ground forces commander, was cited by the Reuters news agency as saying that the Kremlin-backed Wagner mercenaries were "losing considerable strength" and "running out of steam." The group has been at the forefront of Russia's eastern and southern assaults.

"Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya, and Kupiansk," he said, listing Ukrainian counteroffensives last year that recaptured swathes of land.

Ukraine's General Staff said in a report on Friday that Russian attacks on the towns of Lyman, Avdiivka, Mariinka and Shakhtarske were all unsuccessful. Moscow's main focus, however, remained Bakhmut.

Eastern Ukraine's Avdiivka could be next flashpoint

Russia has been struggling to capture the town for months, stressing the move would be strategic while Western analysts downplay its importance.

Capturing Bakhmut would not only give Russian fighters a rare battlefield gain after months of setbacks but could also rupture Ukraine's supply lines, allowing Moscow's forces to advance toward other Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Donetsk region.

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Friday, March 24:

UN accuses Ukrainian, Russian forces of 'summary executions'

The United Nations has said it is "deeply concerned" about reports of war crimes committed in Ukraine.

The head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said that her organization had registered summary executions by both sides.

"We are deeply concerned about (the) summary execution of up to 25 Russian prisoners of war and persons hors de combat by the Ukrainian armed forces, which we have documented," Bogner said.

Bogner said that the executions were often "perpetrated immediately upon capture on the battlefield."

"While we are aware of ongoing investigations by Ukraine authorities into five cases involving 22 victims, we are not aware of any prosecution of the perpetrators," she said.

She said that the Wagner mercenary group was responsible for 11 summary executions.

Meanwhile, a UN report issued Friday claimed Ukrainian soldiers had subjected prisoners of war to death threats, mock executions or threats of sexual violence. The report said that some beatings were "purely retaliatory."

Likewise, Ukrainian prisoners of war said they were subjected to torture and sexual violence at the hands of Moscow's forces, and were denied food, water and medical treatment.

German Chancellor Scholz urges China's Xi to speak with Zelenskyy

Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, said on Friday that Chinese President Xi Jinping should now talk with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after his visit to Russia this week.

"We find it a matter of course that one should not only speak to the Russian president but also to the Ukrainian one," he said at an EU conference in Brussels.

He further said it is "clear" that the war can only end fairly in Ukraine if Russia withdraws its troops.  

He also cautioned China against providing weapons to Russia which he said would be "a bad mistake."

According to top European and US officials, there is no evidence yet of such a move by China.

Beijing proposed a 12-point plan in February to end the Ukraine-Russia war, which Russian President Vladimir Putin said could serve as a basis for peace.

Ukraine's Western allies have responded with cynicism, saying the plan does not call for Moscow to withdraw its troops.

French President Emmanuel Macron also acknowledged China's plan. He is set to visit Beijing with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen next month.

Macron said they want to present "a united front" to urge China to pressure Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

Estonia expels Russian diplomat over 'propaganda'

Estonia's Foreign Ministry has decided to expel a diplomat working at the Russian Embassy in Tallinn.

The ministry said that the Russian diplomat was "spreading propaganda that justifies Russia's military action and causing divisions in Estonian society."

Russia's Foreign Ministry said that it would provide an "appropriate response," without providing further details.

Russian airstrike on homeless shelter kills 3

A Russian airstrike on the city of Kostyantynivka in the eastern Donetsk region hit a homeless shelter, killing three women and injuring two other individuals, Ukraine's emergency service said on Friday.

The deceased women were internally displaced from Bakhmut, Chasiv Yar and Opytne, towns nearby at the center of the conflict.

Lying some 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Bakhmut, Kostyantynivka is an industrial city which has seen long and bloody fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Kremlin welcomes Danish invitation of Gazprom to salvage Nord Stream object

The Kremlin on Friday welcomed Denmark's decision to invite Russian energy giant Gazprom to help salvage an object discovered next to one of the Nord Stream pipelines, which were sabotaged last September.

"It's certainly positive news when the owner of the pipeline is invited to take part in very important phases of the investigation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The Russian-controlled Gazprom owns most of the two Nord Stream pipelines, with the rest of the stakes owned by German, French and Dutch companies.

Peskov said that identifying the object was important, as well as conducting the investigation into the blasts with full transparency. 

Danish authorities announced the discovery of a tubular object of 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) in diameter, protruding some 40 centimeters from the seabed.

Peskov said it was "critically important" to know whether the discovered object was related to the "terrorist act" of sabotaging the pipelines.

The New York Times claimed in a report earlier this month that "pro Ukrainian" groups were behind the attack on the pipelines. Kyiv vehemently denied any involvement. 

German lawmaker on Nord Stream blasts: 'These are rumors, there is no proof'

Medvedev says Russia may advance as far as Kyiv or Lviv

Russian forces may need to advance as far as Kyiv or Lviv, said Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president and confidante of President Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with Russia's RIA Novosti on Friday, Medvedev was quoted as saying that Russian troops will go where they need to go "in order to destroy this infection."

"Nothing can be ruled out here," Medvedev said.

Medvedev went on to say that Russia had no plans for entering a direct conflict with NATO. 

He said Moscow was interested in resolving the conflict in Ukraine through talks, but warned that any Ukrainian attempts to take the Crimean peninsula would make Russia resort to "absolutely any weapon" against Kyiv. Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.

Medvedev, who is now deputy chairman of the country's Security Council, has made increasingly hawkish statements about the invasion of Ukraine.

On Wednesday, he said that any attempt to arrest Vladimir Putin abroad in implementation of the International Criminal Court arrest warrant would be seen as "a declaration of war."

Russian national escapes Italian custody before US extradition

A Russian national escaped house arrest in Milan, Italy, before he was due to be extradited to the US on charges of violating sanctions.

Artem Uss, the son of the governor of Russia's Krasnoyarsk Krai region in Siberia, was arrested in October last year as he prepared to board an Istanbul-bound flight.

He was later charged by US prosecutors with orchestrating a scheme to unlawfully obtain US military technology and Venezuelan-sanctioned oil.

Uss broke his court-ordered electronic bracelet and fled, two days after a judge granted his US extradition order, Italian media reported.

More DW coverage on the war in Ukraine

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday endorsed a deal to ramp up the supply of artillery shells to Ukraine as the country defends itself against Russia's unprovoked invasion.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Ukrainian authorities have recorded over 75,000 war crimes committed by the Russian armed forces.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's three-day visit to Moscow was a political boost to an increasingly isolated Putin. DW spoke to experts about what this trip means for Russia-China relations.

rmt,sdi,aa/rc,nm (dpa, Reuters)