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Ukraine updates: Wagner troops denied ammo — Prigozhin

February 20, 2023

The founder of Russia's mercenary Wagner Group has accused unspecified officials of deliberately denying his fighters ammunition. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv. Follow DW for the latest.

Service members of Russian private military company Wagner Group walk in a street of Soledar
Wagner Group mercenaries have led the effort to take the city of Bakhmut, seizing Soledar to the northImage: SNA/IMAGO

In a seven-minute-long audio message on Monday, Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said ammunition was being held back as part of an ongoing rivalry between himself and parts of the Russian elite.

Prigozhin, a former catering entrepreneur who once shunned the public spotlight, has assumed an increasingly prominent role since the start of the war in Ukraine a year ago.

An apparently angry Prigozhin — once dubbed "Putin's chef'" for his lucrative Kremlin catering contracts — at times spoke with a raised voice and swore. He said he was required to "apologize and obey" in order to secure ammunition for his troops. "I'm unable to solve this problem despite all my connections and contacts."

He blamed the shortage of ammunition on people who were "eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner off golden plates."

Prigozhin's Wagner Group has spearheaded Russia's months-long battle for the Donbas town of Bakhmut.

It is not the first time Prigozhin has made the claim. On Friday, he said Wagner Group mercenaries had taken the settlement of Paraskoviivka north of Bakhmut, despite an "ammunition blockade" by the Russian Defense Ministry.

Russia's Wagner Group claims capture of village near Bakhmut

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Monday, February 20

Russia says troops take hamlet near Bakhmut

Russia says its forces have "fully liberated" the settlement of Paraskoviivkaa which is seen important from a tactical point of view in its battle for the town of Bakhmut

A defense ministry statement made no mention of the mercenary  Wagner Group, which claimed to have taken the village on Friday. 

The ministry said volunteer fighters had taken Paraskoviivka with the support of regular forces, including paratroopers and artillery.

Paraskoviivka is a hamlet on the northern outskirts of Bakhmut,  the eastern Ukrainian city that is the focus of the longest-running battle of Moscow's offensive.

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has said it could take months to take Bakhmut, which is now seen as a key political and symbolic objective.

The fight for the embattled city has exposed a rift between the Russian military and the Wagner paramilitary group, though the Kremlin denies any tensions.

Prigozhin claimed his fighters had taken control of nearby Soledar in January, only for the defense ministry to say Moscow's forces were controlling the town two days later.

US says Russia informed in advance of Biden's Kyiv visit

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan says Russia was informed in advance about US President Joe Biden's visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

"Because of the sensitive nature of those communications, I won't get into how they responded or what the precise nature of our message was, but I can confirm that we provided that notification," Sullivan told journalists.

Moscow was given the information a few hours ahead of Biden's trip. While Washington has not provided details on how Biden reached Kyiv, state guests have generally been traveling there by train. 

Biden's delegation said details of the itinerary would be made available later, once security services released the information.

Ukraine asked for cluster munitions last year

Ukraine first asked Western nations to provide it with cluster munitions last year, sources from several NATO member countries confirmed to the DPA news agency on Monday.

Washington says there has clearly been no decision to provide controversial weapons, the sources said. 

The comments come after last weekend's Munich Security Conference, where the deputy head of the Ukrainian government Olexander Kubrakov asked Western leaders for cluster weapons and phosphorus incendiary weapons.

There are big reservations about such a move in countries such as Germany, which is a signatory to the treaty banning cluster munitions.

Berlin is also unwilling to let Estonia provide some of the munitions that were originally made in Germany to Ukraine.

Navalny says Russia faces 'inevitable' defeat in Ukraine

Imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny has said military defeat in Ukraine is "inevitable" for Russia, even if the Kremlin sends more troops.

Navalny is serving a nine-year sentence for embezzlement charges, which supporters and Western governments see as punishment for his political dissent.

In a statement released ahead of the first anniversary of Russia's offensive, the 46-year-old said Ukraine must be allowed to decide its own fate and that Russia should respect the country's 1991 borders.

"The lives of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have been senselessly ruined," Navalny said in the statement that he called his "political platform."

"The final military defeat can be delayed at the cost of the lives of hundreds of thousands of additional reservists, but on the whole it is inevitable."

Navalny said "tens of thousands of innocent Ukrainians" had been killed because President Vladimir Putin wanted to keep hold of power "at any cost."

He said Russia should "leave Ukraine alone" and that it should pay for the country's losses once the fighting is over.

Germany's Baerbock warned China over arms for Russia

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says she has told Chinese diplomats that China must not ship any weapons or so-called dual-use goods to Russia.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Baerbock said she had raised the subject while at the Munich Security Conference last week.

She said she had made clear that "China as a Security Council member is responsible for world peace."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday warned top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi that there would be consequences if China provided material support to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

China hit back at the US on Monday, saying it was Washington, not Beijing that was providing arms for the conflict. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, "the United States is in no position to make demands of China."

EU ministers discuss new Russia sanctions

European Union foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels on Monday to discuss the latest round of sanctions against Moscow and further support for Ukraine.

The gathering comes days ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of its smaller neighbor.

The European Commission has proposed a 10th round of punitive measures against Russia — aimed at export controls and preventing sanctions evasion — which is to be adopted by February 24. No final decision was expected on Monday.

The diplomats are also to discuss plans to jointly procure ammunition for Kyiv.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the most important task at hand was to make sure Ukraine had enough in stock.

"It is the most urgent issue. If we fail on that, the result of the war is in danger," Borrell said ahead of the meeting.

"The Russian artillery shoots about 50,000 shots a day, and Ukraine needs to be at the same level of capacity. They have cannons but they lack ammunition."

Borrell: 'We have to increase, accelerate military support to Ukraine'

Dutch spy chief says Russia sought to sabotage power network

Russia has tried to spy on and sabotage the Netherlands' energy infrastructure since the start of the Ukraine war, the head of the Dutch Military Information Service (MIVD) says. 

MIVD director Jan Swillens said a Russian ship was spotted in the North Sea gathering information on wind farms in "preparatory acts for interference and sabotage."

The incident, in which coastguard and the navy discovered the vessel in time and forced it to turn away, took place at an unspecified date several months ago.

The Russians are "very interested" in North Sea infrastructure, including internet cables and gas pipelines, Swillens added. "This makes it clear that the threat to the Netherlands is much less remote than one would initially think," he said.

Relations between Russia and the Netherlands worsened sharply after the downing of passenger flight MH17 an anti-aircraft missile over eastern Ukraine in 2014. All 298 people on board, mostly Dutch citizens, were killed.

At the weekend, the Dutch government announced it would expel about 10 Russian diplomats, in some cases on suspicion of spying activities.

War costs Germany €100 billion

The head of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) says he expects Russia's invasion of Ukraine to continue to hamper growth and inflate costs in the German economy.

The war and its effect on driving up energy prices have cost the German economy about €100 billion ($107 billion), or about 2.5% of the country's economic output, DIW President Marcel Fratzscher, told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

"The German economy has been more affected by the crisis because it was more dependent on Russian energy, has a high proportion of energy-intensive industry, and is extremely dependent on exports and global supply chains," said Fratzscher.

There could be damage to Germany's standing as a business location if companies do not speed up efforts to use less energy and embrace digital and economic transformations, he said. Fratzscher added that higher energy prices would remain a clear competitive disadvantage for Germany over the next decades. 

Japan promises billions in aid

Although Tokyo has eschewed sending military hardware to Kyiv, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced some $5.5 billion aid to Ukraine. The aid will particularly go to helping repair the country's critical infrastructure that has been heavily damaged by Russian shelling.

"There is still a need to assist people whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the war, and to restore destroyed infrastructure," Kishida said.

To mark the anniversary of Russia's invasion on February 24 last year, Japan will be hosting an online G7 summit where Ukraine's President Volodomyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to appear as a guest.

Blinken urges Finland, Sweden NATO accession in Turkey

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reiterated during a visit to Ankara that Finland and Sweden should urgently be granted membership

The Scandinavian countries applied last year fearing increase aggression from Russia, but have been stymied by Turkey. Ankara says the two countries are harboring Kurdish nationalists who have applied for aslum in Europe, but who are seen as terrorists by the Turkish government.

Blinken, however, stressed that "Finland and Sweden have already taken concrete steps to fulfil the commitments that they met under the trilateral memorandum of agreement that they signed," along with Turkey.

But in a joint press conference,  his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Sweden in particular still hadn't gone far enough to meet Ankara's requests.

Biden makes surprise trip to Kyiv

US President Joe Biden made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Monday, shortly before the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion.

Biden met with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and announced half a billion dollars in fresh aid, which will include anti-tank missiles and air surveillance equipment.

"Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you and the world stands with you,'' Biden said, standing alongside his Ukrainian counterpart.

German defense minister visits Ukrainian troops

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius was visiting Ukrainian troops being trained in the German city of Munster on Monday. The soldiers are, amongst other things, being trained to use German battle tanks.

After being criticized for taking too long to decide whether or not to send the much-needed equipment to Kyiv, Chancellor Olaf Schoz said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that a "half battalion" of Leopard 2 tanks would arrive in Ukraine "very soon."

Leaders in Berlin have highlighted that while allies were criticizing them about not delivering tanks, Germany will be one of the first countries to actually do so. 

China rejects US accusations it may arm Moscow

Beijing has strongly denied US claims that it was considering sending weapons to Russia to aid in its struggling war effort.

"It is the United States and not China that is endlessly shipping weapons to the battlefield," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.

"We urge the United States to earnestly reflect on its own actions, and do more to alleviate the situation, promote peace and dialogue, and stop shifting blame and spreading false information," he added. 

The denial came after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in several interviews that China is considering providing lethal support" to the Kremlin.

Russia charges Ukrainian officials with war crimes — report

Russia has charged 680 Ukrainian officials, including 118 members of the armed forces and Defense Ministry, with breaking laws governing the conduct of war, TASS news agency reported.

"Currently, prosecution procedures are carried out against 680 people," Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia who reports directly to President Vladimir Putin, was quoted by TASS as saying.

The charges include the use of weapons against civilians, Bastrykin said. Both Ukraine and Russia have denied targeting civilians during the war.

According to the report, 138 people have been charged in absentia.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities have registered more than 70,000 Russian war crimes since the conflict started nearly a year ago. Ukraine has also unveiled a number of criminal cases against members of Russia's forces, including against the head of the Wagner mercenary group.

More on the war in Ukraine

Yevgeny Prigozhin has admitted to leading the Wagner Group of mercenaries and a massive internet troll farm. But is he a threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin, or is he just doing what the Kremlin leader wants? DW takes a look.

The Munich Security Conference has wrapped up with a call for Germany and its European partners to boost defense spending. Catch up on DW's coverage of the event here. 

Ukrainian refugees are portrayed in some media and social media channels as ungrateful, dangerous and parasitic. DW explains why such propagandist tactics often work — and how to recognize them for what they are.

mk,es/nm (AFP, Reuters, AP)