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Ukraine updates: Russia 'lying' about Bakhmut, Wagner says

Published May 12, 2023last updated May 13, 2023

Russia's military was fleeing its positions near the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the head of the Wagner mercenary group said. Meanwhile, Ukraine's Zelenskyy is expected to visit Rome this weekend. DW has the latest.

Bakhmut, Ukraine
Ukrainian servicemen ride atop of a tank on a road to the frontline town of BakhmutImage: Sofiia Gatilova/REUTERS

The head of Russia's private Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin on Friday said Moscow's regular army was fleeing its positions near the eastern Ukraine hotspot town of Bakhmut. 

"The units of the defense ministry simply went fleeing from the flanks" of Bakhmut, Prigozhin said, adding that "the flanks are failing, the front is collapsing" in that area.

He also accused Moscow's military leadership of downplaying the situation around the embattled Ukrainian town.

"Attempts by the defense ministry in the information field to sugar coat the situation — it's leading and will lead to a global tragedy for Russia. For this reason, we must stop lying immediately," Prigozhin said. 

Earlier on Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that its forces had repelled a surge of attempted Ukrainian attacks against its positions in eastern Ukraine and indicated that its forces had fallen back a bit in one area for tactical reasons.

The ministry said in a statement that Ukraine had deployed more than a thousand troops and up to 40 tanks in 26 attempted attacks across a front line extending over 95 kilometers (59 miles). It said the attacks had taken place in the direction of the town of Soledar which is held by Moscow's forces.

The same statement did indicate however that Russian forces had fallen back in one area of the front, taking up what it described as "more favorable positions" near the Berkhivka reservoir northwest of Bakhmut.

Bakhmut, Ukraine
Smoke rises from buildings in this aerial view of eastern Ukrainian town of BakhmutImage: Libkos/AP Photo

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Friday, May 12:

Russian military helicopter crashes over Crimea

Two Russian pilots were killed when a Russian Mi-28 military helicopter crashed in the north of the annexed peninsula of Crimea, Russian news agencies reported, citing the defense ministry.

The crash occurred during a training flight, and the helicopter was flying without weapons, news agencies cited the defense ministry as saying in a statement. The defense ministry said it believed the reason for the crash was equipment failure.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The peninsula is internationally recognized as part of Ukraine and Kyiv has vowed to regain control over it.

Rheinmetall founds joint venture to make and repair tanks in Ukraine

Rheinmetall has founded a joint venture with Ukrainian state-owned conglomerate Ukroboronprom to build and repair tanks in Ukraine, the Handelsblatt daily reported, citing the German arms maker's chief executive.

"The contracts have been signed," CEO Armin Papperger told German newspaper Handelsblatt, adding that the cooperation would cover the maintenance and repair of armored vehicles in Ukraine, while the construction of tanks would be prepared in parallel.

Rheinmetall will hold a majority stake of 51% in the new company and will provide the management. The German company expects to sign contracts for two more joint ventures in the coming days, for ammunition and air defense, according to Handelsblatt.

Zelenskyy to meet Italian president in Rome on Saturday

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be welcomed in Rome by Italy's President Sergio Mattarella on Saturday, Italy's presidential palace said. 

Zelenskyy is also expected to meet Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Pope Francis during his visit. Ever since she came to power, Meloni has been a firm supporter of Ukraine in its attempts to fight off the Russian invasion. 

It was not clear how long Zelenskyy would be in Rome, with speculation he is also planning a trip to Germany this weekend.

German media reported earlier this month that Zelenskyy will visit Berlin for talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, before picking up the Charlemagne Prize, for work done in the service of European unification, in the western city of Aachen on Sunday.

German officials have not confirmed the visit, but Berlin police have opened a probe after details of the possible trip attributed to the force appeared in the media.

Ukraine makes plea for help ahead of counteroffensive

Majority in Germany want Ukraine to talk to Russia to end war — survey

A majority of Germans want Ukraine to engage in talks with Russia to end the war Moscow launched nearly 15 months ago, according to a survey. 

In a survey conducted on behalf of dpa, the opinion research institute YouGov asked respondents: "Do you think Ukraine should or shouldn't be negotiating with Russia to end the war at this point?" 

55% of respondents said Ukraine should be negotiating with Russia, while 28% said they should not. 

The majority of Germans questioned — 54% — were also opposed to NATO inviting Ukraine to become a member of the Western defense alliance. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is attending the NATO summit in July in Lithuania, where he hopes the path toward his country's membership will be cleared by leaders.

US, German ministers discuss efforts to counter Russian sanctions evasion

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met German Finance Minister Christian Lindner on the sidelines of a G7 summit. The two underscored the importance of working together to counterMoscow's evasion of Western sanctions imposed over its war in Ukraine.

"Secretary Yellen expressed appreciation for Germany's close coordination on the implementation of Russia sanctions and discussed the importance of aligning efforts to counter sanctions evasion," the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The US and a broad coalition of other countries have provided significant economic, security and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, while using sanctions and export controls to impose heavy economic costs on Russia.

Turkey says extension of Ukraine grain deal near completion

Turkey said that talks to extend a deal allowing grain exports from Ukraine via the Black Sea  were nearing an agreement.

"We are heading toward an agreement on the extension of the grain deal," Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement. Akar was referring to talks in Istanbul this week between officials from Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations.

The US and Britain on Tuesday pressed Russia to extend again the deal, accusing Moscow of exploiting global hunger for advantage in the war.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, in place since July after diplomacy by the UN and Turkey, has helped ease shortages and the resulting price spikes triggered by Russia's invasion of the breadbasket nation.

The deal is set to expire on May 18, and Russia has not yet committed to a third renewal.

China special envoy to visit Ukraine

China will send a special envoy to Ukraine, Russia and other European nations from Monday, Beijing said, to discuss a "political settlement" to the war in Ukraine.

"From May 15, Ambassador Li Hui, special representative of the Chinese government for Eurasian Affairs, will visit Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany and Russia to communicate with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press conference.

China says it is positioned to help mediate the conflict between Russian and Ukraine because it has not taken sides publicly.

However, Western countries say China's 12-point peace proposal for Ukraine is too vague, offers no concrete path out of the war and could be used by Putin to promote a truce that would leave his forces in control of occupied territory. 

EU leaders push China on Ukraine stance

Ukraine reports gains around Bakhmut

Ukraine said on Friday that its forces had made significant advances around the embattled city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, which has been the epicenter of fighting with Russia for months.

"The enemy has suffered great losses of manpower. Our defense forces advanced 2 kilometers (around 1 mile) near Bakhmut. We did not lose a single position in Bakhmut this week," Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said in a statement on social media.

The comments came after another senior Ukrainian military official said this week that Russian forces had dropped back from some areas near Bakhmut after counterattacks by Kyiv's forces.

However, Russia denied late on Thursday that Ukraine had made any breakthroughs in the flashpoint city, saying that reports of territorial losses around Bakhmut did "not correspond to reality."

Moscow reacted after Russian military bloggers, writing on Telegram, reported what they said were Ukrainian advances north and south of the city of Bakhmut, with some suggesting a long-awaited counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces had started.

Bakhmut, which had a pre-war population of around 70,000 people, has been destroyed as Russian forces have posted incremental gains over recent months, amounting to some 80% of the city itself.

More DW coverage on Russia's war in Ukraine

Despite rocket fire and power outages, the music scene in Kyiv is active. DW spoke with the Ukrainian artists playing shows at home and accross Europe to raise money for their country.

dh/wd,msh,fb (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)