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Ukraine updates: Russia likely shifting focus from Bakhmut

March 25, 2023

Russia's assault on Bakhmut has largely stalled amid heavy attrition of Moscow's forces, according to a British report. Meanwhile, Russia's parliamentary speaker proposes banning ICC activities. DW rounds up the latest.

Ukrainian servicemen fire a 2S7 Pion self-propelled gun toward Russian positions
Ukrainian troops are also understood to have suffered heavy losses in their defense of BakhmutImage: Oleksandr Ratushniak/REUTERS

The United Kingdom's Defence Ministry says Russia appears to have shifted its operational focus away from the Donbas town of Bakhmut to areas to the north and south.

The ministry's daily report on Saturday says that, with the offensive on Bakhmut itself looking to have stalled, Russia's forces are redirecting their efforts to Avdiivka, south of Bakhmut, and to the Kremina-Svatove sector in the north.

Here, the British analysts suggest Russia is likely only seeking to stabilize its front line — an overall return to "a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January."

Russian forces had been posting painstakingly gradual gains around the city, the symbolic importance of which surpasses any military significance.

The ministry points out the "extreme attrition of the Russian force" is a likely reason for the switch but acknowledges that Ukraine has also suffered heavy casualties during its defense.

"The Russian situation has also likely been made worse by tensions between the Russian Ministry of Defence and Wagner Group, both of whom contribute troops in the sector," the report adds.

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Saturday, March 25:

Russia will station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Putin says

Russia intends to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Putin said, according to TASS state news agency.

Putin said the US had long placed tactical nuclear weapons across bases in Europe, and his agreement with his Belarusian counterpart on Saturday would do just the same.

Russia to store tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus: Juri Rescheto reports

"We agreed that we will do the same — without violating our obligations, I emphasize, without violating our international obligations on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons."

Putin added that Russia will have completed the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons — those used for gains in the battlefield — by July 1.

Though not clear when the weapons would be transferred, the Russian president clarified that Moscow would not actually be transferring control of the arms to Minsk.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is one of Putin's closest regional allies. Belarus also remains highly dependent on Moscow for economic and military assistance.

Russia pardons 5,000 former criminals after fighting in war

The founder of Russia's Wagner mercenary group says more than 5,000 former inmates of Russian prisons have been pardoned after completing military service contracts in Ukraine.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, dubbed Putin's chef over his past lucrative catering contracts with the Kremlin, recruited thousands of men from prisons, offering them the chance of freedom in return for serving in Ukraine.

The Wagner Group, originally staffed by battle-hardened veterans of the Russian armed forces, has taken on an increasingly prominent role in the Ukraine war. That came after the regular Russian army suffered a series of humiliating defeats. 

Zelenskyy says counteroffensive can't start yet

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says an expected counteroffensive against Russian forces cannot happen now because his country still lacks the necessary weapons, equipment, and ammunition. 

His assessment appeared in a report on Saturday in the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. 

"We cannot start yet," Zelensky said. Without tanks and artillery, "no brave soldiers" can be sent to the front, Zelensky told the paper in an interview conducted on Thursday, on a train on his way back to Kyiv from visiting the front.

Polish producer to boost ammo capacity

Polish ammunition maker Dezamet, a unit of state arms producer Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (PGZ), is set to dramatically ramp up its capacity to supply EU-funded ammunition to Ukraine.

The announcement by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki comes ahead of a visit by EU Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, to the manufacturer on Monday.

Seventeen EU member states and Norway have agreed to jointly procure ammunition to help Ukraine rebuild its stockpiles.

UN condemns abuses by both sides in Ukraine

Dezamet produces ammunition for artillery, mortars, and grenade launchers, and is one of more than 50 armaments enterprises that make up PGZ.

"This plant can count on new orders and funds, we will be launching new production lines at this company and the others to produce ammunition," Morawiecki told Radio RMF when asked about Breton's visit to the factory.

"We want to multiply the output severalfold as quickly as possible," he said.

Turkey's Erdogan thanks Putin over grain deal

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has spoken to Russia's Vladimir Putin and thanked him for his "positive attitude" in extending the Black Sea grain deal.

The Turkish presidency said the leaders had discussed steps to improve relations between Ankara and Moscow and and developments regarding the war in Ukraine. 

It said Erdogan had expressed the importance of ending the conflict between Russia and Ukraine with negotiations as soon as possible.

Putin ally proposes ban on ICC activities in Russia

The speaker of Russia's parliament, the Duma, has proposed banning the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Russian soil — and beyond — after the court issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin.

The Hague-based court indicted Putin, accusing him of the war crime of deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. It says there are reasonable grounds to believe that he bears criminal responsibility.

Vyacheslav Volodin, an ally of the Russian leader, said legislation must be amended to prohibit "any activity of the ICC on the territory of our country."

He also said any assistance or support for the court inside Russia should be punishable under law.

Ukraine's lost children: 'This is not just a war crime'

Volodin pointed out that the United States had legislated to prevent its citizens from ever being tried by the court and that Russia should do the same.

Wellington urges Beijing against lethal aid to Russia

In a meeting with her Chinese counterpart, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has expressed concern to China over any provision of lethal aid to support Russia in its war against Ukraine.

Mahuta's press office on Saturday detailed her cautionary remarks in Beijing, days after Chinese President Xi Jinping wound up his trip to Moscow.

Mahuta reiterated her government's condemnation of Moscow's "illegal invasion" to her counterpart Qin Gang. Wang said the pressing task was to establish a ceasefire and resume talks, adding that China would seek to further play a constructive role after drafting its peace proposal.

More on the war in Ukraine

Figure skating has been Russia's pride for decades if not centuries. But faced with bans from international competitions, young Russian skating talents are leaving the country in search of a better future.

Ukraine's ombudsman on children's rights, Daria Gerasymchuk, explains how Russia has managed to transport at least 16,000 Ukrainian children out of the country, and how Ukraine is trying to get them back.

Denmark plans to recover an object found near the previously sabotaged Nord Stream pipelines. Russia has said it is important to establish what it is, noting any investigation must be transparent.

Plans for Ukraine's counteroffensive emerged with Russia struggling to capture Bakhmut. Meanwhile, Medvedev threatened that Russia might attack Kyiv or Lviv. Catch up with Friday's updates.

Zelenskyy visits front line near Bakhmut

rc/wd (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)