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Ukraine updates: Russia says defense minister visits Donbas

March 4, 2023

Russia's Defense Ministry said that Sergei Shoigu had met with soldiers on the front line in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the UK has warned Ukraine's hold on Bakhmut is under pressure. DW has the latest.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (center) speaking to an officer in a photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry
The Russian Defense Ministry did not say where on the front line Sergei Shoigu was meeting with soldiersImage: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP Photo/picture alliance

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has been at the front line in eastern Ukraine inspecting Russian forces, his ministry said on Saturday.

Shoigu had "inspected a command post on the front" in the Donbas region, the ministry said without specifying where.

Recent heavy fighting has focused on the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, also in Donbas. Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Friday that his forces had almost completely surrounded the town.

The minister reportedly listened to a situation report and handed out awards to men and women fighting on the front line.

"The awards are deserved and earned, you are fighting properly. A lot of work lies ahead," Shoigu said during the ceremony, according to Russian state media.

The Russian Defense Ministry has reported previous visits by Shoigu to the front in Ukraine in mid-January and before that twice in December. However, independent analysts later said that, based on video material, Shoigu was in fact some 80 kilometers away from the front during his visits.

In contrast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny and the head of the land forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, have made regular visits to contested sections of the front line.

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Saturday, March 4:

EU Parliament President Roberta Metsola meets with Zelenskyy in Lviv

President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola was in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday where she took part in a memorial ceremony and laid flowers for those killed in the war.

"Emotional moment today as I laid flowers on behalf of the people of Europe to remember all those killed — including Yuriy Ruf, who was killed by Russian mortars on 1 April," she wrote on Twitter. "It was especially poignant for me as that was the day I first visited Ukraine."

During her visit, Metsola also urged EU states to expand their weapons deliveries to Ukraine, saying: " Member states should seriously consider sending fighter jets to Ukraine."

Later the parliament president met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Ukrainian authorities said that the two had discussed Kyiv's "peace formula" and the idea of hosting a peace summit with the inclusion of countries from the Global South.

EU to sign agreement on prosecuting Russian war crimes

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday morning that an agreement will be signed at an international conference in Lviv this weekend which will pave the way for an international body to prosecute Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

The planned International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression (ICPA) will preserve evidence and prepare for future trials against Russian individuals.

"Torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence and summary executions are known to have been committed by Russian forces. Not even children are being spared," Von der Leyen said in a video

"Russia must be held accountable for these horrific crimes. Putin must be held accountable," she added.

However, how to successfully extradite any Russians to face trial unless they are captured in Ukraine or travel voluntarily and are arrested remains a major stumbling block.

UK says Ukraine is under 'severe pressure' in Bakhmut

The British Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence update on Saturday that Ukraine's hold on the strategically important but small town of Bakhmut in Donetsk was being threatened by Russian advances.

"The Ukrainian defense of the Donbas town of Bakhmut is under increasingly severe pressure," the intelligence report said, adding that due to progress made by the Russian Army and Wagner Group mercenaries, the Ukrainian position was now "vulnerable to Russian attacks on three sides."

The ministry also reported that two key bridges in Bakhmut had been destroyed in the last 36 hours and that "Ukrainian-held resupply routes out of the town are increasingly limited."

Russian mercenary chief says Bakhmut almost fully encircled

Lavrov met with laughter at India conference

Audience members at a geopolitical conference in New Delhi burst out laughing after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Ukraine began the war against Russia, a claim that the Kremlin has rolled out numerous times.

Responding to a question over the effect of the war on Russia's energy strategy, Lavrov said: "You know the war which we are trying to stop and which was launched against us using the Ukrainian people."

Seemingly caught off guard by the laughter, Lavrov paused briefly before continuing: "Of course the conflict influenced the policy of Russia, including the energy policy."

India, which was hosting the summit, has maintained good relations with Russia and held a neutral stance on the invasion.

German arms company Rheinmetall looking to build factory in Ukraine

Rheinmetall, one of Germany's biggest weapons manufacturers, has been in talks with the Ukrainian government about building a tank factory in Ukraine, German newspaper Rheinische Post reported on Saturday.

"For around €200 million ($213 million), a Rheinmetall factory can be built in Ukraine," CEO Armin Papperger said, adding that such a facility would be able to produce up to 400 Panther tanks a year.

Papperger said that talks with Kyiv had been "promising" and that he hoped for a decision "in the next two months."

Rheinmetall has already made around 250 tanks of various types available for Ukraine, including Marder, Leopard 24A and Leopard 1.

Papperger told the Rheinische Post that Ukraine needs between 600 and 800 tanks to defeat Russia, meaning that the production of new tanks must begin quickly. "Even if Germany were to hand over all of its available 300 Leopard 2 tanks, it would be nowhere near enough."

The CEO said that Ukraine has received enough weapons to defend itself but not to win back territory taken by Russian forces. He also predicted the war would last "probably for years."

Rheinmetall has seen its value more than double since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

ab/fb (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)