Ukraine news – live: Putin and Wagner lose ‘substantial manpower in Bakhmut fight’

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Russia and the mercenary Wagner group have likely lost tens of thousands of soldiers in Bakhmut even as Vladimir Putin’s forces continued to fight in the salt mining city.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) pointed to the statement by the US chairman of the joint chief of staff general Mark Milley who said that the Wagner has around 6,000 professional personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 recruits, mostly convicts, in Bakhmut.

This is lower than the number mentioned by the national security council spokesperson John Kirby in December where he said that the Wagner had 50,000 personnel in Ukraine including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convict recruits.

“It is likely that the difference between Kirby’s 50,000 figure in Ukraine and Milley’s 26,000 to 36,000 figure in the Bakhmut area is the result of casualties from Wagner’s attritional offensive on Bakhmut,” the ISW said.

Volodymyr Zelensky lauded Ukrainian strength faced against 400 days of Russia’s full-scale invasion in his nightly address.

Key points

  • Wagner has lost ‘substantial manpower’ in Bakhmut fight

  • Ukraine has endured 400 days of Putin’s invasion, says Zelensky

  • White House says Russia looking to trade food for North Korean munitions

  • Putin may force 400,000 troops to join war in new volunteer campaign, says UK

  • Xi Jinping should visit Ukraine, says White House

  • Russia has suffered more than 220,0000 casualties so far, says Ben Wallace

Transcript of AP interview with Volodymyr Zelenskyy

05:00 , Eleanor Noyce

AP Executive Editor Julie Pace interviewed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Zelenskyy visited the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, which still faces regular shelling from Russian forces, and northern towns in the Sumy region that were liberated shortly after the war began a year ago.

Zelenskyy spoke to the AP aboard a train shuttling him across Ukraine to cities near some of the fiercest fighting and others where his country’s forces have successfully repelled Russia’s invasion. Zelenskyy rarely travels with journalists, and the president’s office said AP’s two-night train trip with him was the most extensive since the war began.

Read the full transcript below:

Transcript of AP interview with Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Wagner has lost ‘substantial manpower’ in Bakhmut fight

04:26 , Arpan Rai

Russia’s onslaught on Bakhmut can turn bleak as Wagner group and conventional Russian forces have likely lost manpower in their ongoing fight in the salt mining city, analysts say.

“Western officials reported that Wagner Group and conventional Russian forces have likely lost a substantial amount of manpower in the Bakhmut area, which will further constrain Russia’s offensive on Bakhmut,” the US-based Institute for the Study of War said in its latest analysis.

The think-tank monitoring the war referenced a statement by the US chairman of the joint chief of staff general Mark Milley who said that the Wagner Group has around 6,000 professional personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 recruits, mostly convicts, fighting in the Bakhmut area.

This is lower than the number mentioned by the national security council spokesperson John Kirby in December where he said that the Wagner Group had 50,000 personnel in Ukraine including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convict recruits.

“It is likely that the difference between Kirby’s 50,000 figure in Ukraine and Milley’s 26,000 to 36,000 figure in the Bakhmut area is the result of casualties from Wagner’s attritional offensive on Bakhmut,” the ISW said.

It added: “Kirby reported on 17 February that the Wagner Group had suffered 30,000 casualties, with 9,000 dead, in operations in Ukraine.

“The Wagner Group may lose thousands more convict recruits in the upcoming weeks as convicts finish their six-month military contracts, and the Wagner leadership appears for now to be allowing pre-pardoned convicts to return from the frontlines to Russia at the conclusion of those contracts,” the ISW said.

Scuffles at Kyiv monastery over alleged Russian ties

04:00 , Katy Clifton

Scuffles broke out outside a Kyiv monastery on Thursday after a Ukrainian branch of the Orthodox Church that the government says has ties with Russia defied an eviction order.

Tensions over the presence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) at the 980-year-old Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery have risen since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

Kyiv accuses the UOC of maintaining ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, which has supported Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The UOC says it broke all links with the Russian Church in May 2022.

Hours after a deadline to leave the monastery passed at midnight on Wednesday, members of the UOC refused entry to representatives of a government commission who wanted to inspect buildings in the gold-domed monastery’s sprawling complex.

Shortly afterward, scuffles broke out in which a Reuters reporter was hit and shoved by an unidentified man and another reporter was pushed away by a cleric as she tried to approach him. No one was hurt.

Ukraine has endured 400 days of Putin’s invasion, says Zelensky

03:52 , Arpan Rai

Volodymyr Zelensky has lauded Ukrainian strength faced against 400 days of Russia’s full-scale invasion in his nightly address.

“Four hundred days... Four hundred days of our defence against full-scale aggression. This is a colossal path that we have endured . All together - everyone who fought and fights for Ukraine. Who took care and takes care about the state and Ukrainians. Who helped and helps our logistics. Who strengthened and strengthens Ukrainian resilience,” Mr Zelensky said.

He added: “Ukraine went through the most terrifying days of that February. We survived this winter as well. There is a colossal effort behind these words...”

“We passed last spring, which turned the tide of this war in favour of our defence,” he siad.

“Last summer and autumn, we proved that the spring liberation of our northern regions was no accident. The battle for Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions... The return of the territories of our Kharkiv region, the return of Kherson, the defence of Bakhmut and Donbas in general - this is the heroism of Ukrainians that the world will not forget,” Mr Zelensky said.

Trump claims ‘ignorant and foolish’ DeSantis comments about Putin could lead to nuclear war

03:00 , Eleanor Noyce

In his latest campaign video posted to Truth Social, Donald Trump again took aim at Ron DeSantis, this time slamming him for his recent remarks on Russia which took a tougher stance regarding Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.

The former president sought to tie the Florida governor to remarks made in the past by Senator Mitt Romney and even the late Senator John McCain.

“Calling Russia a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons, or calling Putin, quote, ‘an authoritarian gas station attendant with some legacy of nuclear weapons from the old Soviet Union’ is exactly the kind of simple-minded thinking that has produced decades of failed diplomacy and ultimately war,” said the former president.

“And where is that war going? Those such as Mitt Romney and Ron DeSantis, very much alike, who insist on arrogantly treating Russia as deeply inferior to the other nations of the world with no history or culture or pride, are not only ignorant and foolish, but their attitude makes it impossible to negotiate peace. Absolutely impossible,” he continued.

Oliver O’Connell reports:

Trump claims ‘ignorant’ DeSantis remarks about Putin could lead to nuclear war

ICYMI: Russia to stop warning US before carrying out missile tests

02:00 , Katy Clifton

Russia will no longer tell the US before carrying out missile tests, a senior Kremlin diplomat said on Wednesday, signalling an end to a decades-long practice that has eased the threat of nuclear escalation.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russian deputy foreign minister, said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that Moscow had halted all information exchanges with Washington after recently withdrawing from the last remaining nuclear arms pact with the US.

The two nations have exchanged advance warnings about test launches for decades, along with information about the current state of their nuclear forces.

Read more below:

Russia to stop warning US before carrying out missile tests

Zelensky painting up for auction

01:00 , Katy Clifton

An original painting of Volodymyr Zelensky signed by the Ukrainian president is being sold at auction, and proceeds from the sale will be used to benefit the nation’s people suffering during its war with Russia.Bidding on the 40-by-24-inch painting by American artist Oleg Jones starts at $50,000, and the goal is to sell it for at least $100,000, Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of auctioneer RR Auction in Boston, said Thursday.The painting features an image of Zelenskyy against the background of Ukraine‘s blue and yellow flag. Several raised stars in the upper left of the piece form a heart around the gold trident from the nation’s coat of arms.

Inside Zelenskyy’s efforts to buoy a nation

Friday 31 March 2023 00:01 , Katy Clifton

The caravan of unmarked vehicles tears across the muddy grass next to the playground. On the merry-go-round, the children stop swinging and spinning. The curious — parents and other residents of this southeastern town — gather around. Car doors swing open, and heavily armed security guards in battlefield fatigues spill out.

And just like that, he is among them: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wartime leader and his country’s chief morale officer.

This week, Zelenskyy shuttled across the country on a 48-hour train trip to rally soldiers who are battling Russian forces — and, just as important, to buoy the communities often caught in the crossfire.

Read more below:

Ukraine by rail: Inside Zelenskyy's efforts to buoy a nation

Putin calls up 147,000 Russians for spring conscription

Thursday 30 March 2023 23:00 , Eleanor Noyce

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed an annual decree outlining how many citizens should be enlisted to fight as part of its spring conscription campaign.

The decree states that 147,000 Russian citizens should be drafted for military service, Tass news agency reports.

In September 2022, Putin previously signed an order calling for the conscription of 120,000 people as part of its autumn campaign.

At present, all men between the ages of 18 and 27 are required to carry out one year’s military service or the equivalent training if in higher education.

Blinken compares Bosnia Serb leader to Putin

Thursday 30 March 2023 21:00 , Eleanor Noyce

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has compared the policies of the Bosnia Serb separatist leader to those of Russian President Vladimir Putin following his moves to curb dissent and LGBTQ rights.

Blinken tweeted late Wednesday that “Milorad Dodik’s attacks on basic rights and freedoms in Republika Srpska show he is on President Putin’s authoritarian path.”

Republika Srpska is the name for the half of Bosnia that is dominated by the country’s Serbs. Dodik is the entity’s president and leading politician who has repeatedly advocated for the breakup of Bosnia and clashed with Western officials in the Balkan country.

Earlier this month, Dodik’s government faced criticism from the U.S. and the European Union for pushing forward with a law to recriminalize libel and insult offences, which was seen as an attack on the freedom of expression and independent media.

Dodik also announced a law in the upcoming months to prohibit access for LGBTQ activists to kindergartens, schools and universities. This came only days after a group of hooligans attacked LGBTQ activists and journalists in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska’s administrative centre.

Read more:

Blinken compares Bosnia Serb leader to Putin

NATO, US forces join Romania-led Black Sea military drills

Thursday 30 March 2023 20:00 , Eleanor Noyce

Romania’s navy led multinational military drills in the Black Sea region Thursday that brought together U.S. and NATO troops as the 30-nation alliance looks to boost security on its southeastern flank amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The sea and air exercises are part of a series of drills known as Sea Shield 2023 that involve some 3,400 military personnel from 12 NATO member countries and some partner nations.

Romania’s navy said Thursday’s drills in the Mahmudia region of the Danube Delta, which flows into the Black Sea, would demonstrate how the combined forces would “neutralize an enemy air landing” in an area adjacent to such a waterway.

More than 30 naval ships, 14 aircraft and 15 “fast intervention” boats and other patrol vessels are taking part in Sea Shield 2023, which started March 20 and runs until April 2. Anti-explosive divers have participated in drills, as have chemical, biological, and nuclear defence specialists.

In response to Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, NATO bolstered its presence on Europe’s eastern flank by sending additional multinational battlegroups to alliance members Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.

Read more:

NATO, US forces join Romania-led Black Sea military drills

White House says Russia looking to trade food for North Korean munitions

Thursday 30 March 2023 19:21 , Eleanor Noyce

The White House said Russia is “actively seeking” to acquire North Korean-made munitions for use against Ukraine and has offered to trade Pyongyang food in exchange for the weapons.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Thursday that Russia’s quest for North Korean munitions is a consequence of the American and European sanctions that have been imposed on Moscow since Russian forces began invading Ukraine last year.

In January, the White House claimed that Russia’s Wagner Group had received trainloads of arms from North Korea last year.

Mr Kirby said the Biden Administration remains “concerned” that Pyongyang will provide further support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, and said a private arms dealer has been trying to broker a secret agreement between the two countries.

Andrew Feinberg reports:

White House says Russia looking to trade food for North Korean munitions

Finland says Russia spy operations weakened in Nordic nation

Thursday 30 March 2023 19:00 , Eleanor Noyce

Expulsions of Russian intelligence officers and visa refusals have substantially weakened Moscow’s intelligence operations in neighboring Finland in the past year, the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service said Thursday.

The intelligence agency, known by the abbreviation SUPO, said in a statement that Russian intelligence has been “squeezed” in the Nordic country because of the agency’s ability to compromise spy operations in 2022.

“The Russian intelligence station (in Finland) shrank to about half of its former size last year,” SUPO Director Antti Pelttari said, adding that the main reason for the decline were expulsions of suspected spies and visa refusals on the advice of his agency.

The falling number of intelligence officers and restrictions on travel across the Russian-Finland border amid Moscow‘s war in Ukraine have significantly undermined operating conditions for Russian spies in Finland, SUPO said.

It noted that operations under diplomatic cover have traditionally been the main instrument of Russian intelligence abroad, and Moscow was seeking to use, among other methods, cyberespionge to make up for the shortfall in human intelligence.

Read more:

Finland says Russia spy operations weakened in Nordic nation

Wall Street Journal reporter seen for first time since being arrested in Russia

Thursday 30 March 2023 18:00 , Eleanor Noyce

New footage has captured a Wall Street Journal reporter seen for the first time since being arrested in Russia.

Journalist Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg on spying charges, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) – the successor to the KGB.

He was brought to Moscow where a court at a closed hearing ordered him held in pre-trial detention until 29 May. The TASS state news agency said he pleaded not guilty. The authorities released no evidence publicly and the case is said to have been marked “top secret”.

The arrest is the most serious public move against an international journalist since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year. Espionage charges against someone from an American news outlet have not been seen since the end of the Cold War – with the detention coming amid a bitter war of words between Moscow and Washington over the Ukraine war. If convicted, Mr Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison.

The Wall Street Journal said in a statement it was “deeply concerned” for Mr Gershkovich’s safety and that it “vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter”.

Watch here:

Read the full story here:

Russia arrests Wall Street Journal reporter on ‘espionage’ charges

White House releases statement on Wall Street Journal reporter arrested in Russia

Thursday 30 March 2023 17:32 , Eleanor Noyce

The White House has released a statement following the arrest of a Wall Street Journal journalist in Russia.

Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg on spying charges, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) – the successor to the KGB.

He was brought to Moscow where a court at a closed hearing ordered him held in pre-trial detention until 29 May. The TASS state news agency said he pleaded not guilty. The authorities released no evidence publicly and the case is said to have been marked “top secret”.

A newly-released statement from White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reads:

“We are deeply concerned by the troubling reports that Evan Gershkovich, an American citizen, has been detained in Russia.

“Last night, White House and State Department Officials spoke with Mr. Gershkovich’s employer, the Wall Street Journal. The Administration has also been in contact with his family.

“Furthermore, the State Department has been in direct touch with the Russian government on this matter, including actively working to secure consular access to Mr. Gershkovich.

“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest terms.

“We also condemn the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists and freedom of the press.

“I want to strongly reiterate that Americans should heed the U.S. government’s warning to not travel to Russia. U.S. citizens residing or travelling in Russia should depart immediately, as the State Department continues to advise.”

King Charles praises Germany’s generosity in hosting millions of Ukrainian refugees

Thursday 30 March 2023 17:00 , Eleanor Noyce

King Charles III has praised Germany for showing “extraordinary hospitality” in hosting more than one million refugees from Ukraine since the outbreak of war.

In the first state banquet speech of his reign on Wednesday evening (29 March), Charles also pledged to “strengthen the connections” between the UK and Germany after arriving in Berlin.

“I did want to pay a particular tribute to Germany’s extraordinary hospitality in hosting over one million Ukrainian refugees,” the King said.

“This, it seems to me, so powerfully demonstrates the generosity and spirit of the German people.”

Watch:

King Charles praises Germany’s generosity in hosting millions of Ukrainian refugees

“I’m praying for you”, King Charles tells Ukrainians during historic Bundestag address

Thursday 30 March 2023 16:30 , Eleanor Noyce

The King has told Ukrainians “I’m praying for you” after condemning the “unimaginable suffering” caused by President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of their homeland.

Charles met families who escaped to Germany after he praised the nation’s “courageous, important and appreciated” decision to send “significant” military support to Ukraine in a historic address to the Bundestag.

At Berlin’s old Tegel Airport the King met recently arrived Ukrainians, a few of more than a million who have sought refuge in the country, and in a lighter moment played table football with some of the group.

On several occasions Charles clasped his hands together and told refugees “I’m praying for you”.

The King made history by delivering the first speech by a British monarch during a session of the Bundestag.

He told the packed chamber: “The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has inflicted the most unimaginable suffering on so many innocent people.

“Countless lives have been destroyed; freedom and human dignity have been trampled in the most brutal way. The security of Europe has been threatened, together with our democratic values.

“The world has watched in horror - but we have not stood by. Even as we abhor the appalling scenes of destruction, we can take heart from our unity - in defence of Ukraine, of peace and freedom.

“Germany and the United Kingdom have shown vital leadership. As Europe’s two largest donors to Ukraine, we have responded with taking decisions which might previously have seemed unimaginable. Germany’s decision to send such significant military support to Ukraine is remarkably courageous, important and appreciated.”

Sweden’s Nato hopes falter amid fresh objection from Hungary

Thursday 30 March 2023 16:10 , Eleanor Noyce

Sweden’s foreign minister has indicated that he was no longer sure his country would be able to join Nato by July, after fresh signs of objections from Hungary.

Sweden applied to join the military alliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, but Hungary and fellow Nato member Turkey held off from approving the bid.

Foreign minister Tobias Billstrom said last week that “it goes without saying” Sweden would become a member by the time of a Nato summit in Vilnius in July.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

But he told TT news agency on Thursday: I have noted the things that have been said in recent days, especially from Hungary’s side, and that means you always have reason to alter your words.

“I think ‘hopeful’ in this context is better,” he added.

King Charles visits Ukrainian refugees in Berlin

Thursday 30 March 2023 15:38 , Emily Atkinson

The King has been photographed visiting the Tegel Refugee Centre in Berlin, where he is seen talking to Ukrainian people and families given refuge there.

 (PA)
(PA)
 (EPA)
(EPA)

Russia’s Lavrov to visit Turkey in early April -Turkish broadcaster NTV

Thursday 30 March 2023 15:00 , Emily Atkinson

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Turkey on 6-7 April Turkish private broadcaster NTV reported on Thursday.

The war in Ukraine and developments in Syria would be discussed in talks during Lavrov’s visit, as well as commerce, energy issues and bilateral ties, NTV said.

 (EPA)
(EPA)

Orlando Bloom tells President Zelensky stoicism of Ukraine is ‘awe-inspiring’

Thursday 30 March 2023 14:30 , Emily Atkinson

Orlando Bloom has praised the strength of the Ukrainian people as he met the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and encouraged him to “go win” the war.

The British actor, 46, who is a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador, travelled to Kyiv in his first visit back to Ukraine since 2016.

In the meeting, Bloom told Mr Zelensky it is “remarkable to see how you are holding this country” and said it was a “real honour” to meet the Ukrainian president.

More on this story here:

Orlando Bloom tells President Zelensky stoicism of Ukraine is ‘awe-inspiring’

FSB requests formal arrest of US reporter

Thursday 30 March 2023 14:00 , Emily Atkinson

Investigators from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on Thursday requested the formal arrest of American Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, detained on suspicion of espionage, the state-owned news agency TASS reported, citing Moscow’s Lefortovo district court.

Journalist Evan Gershkovich (AFP via Getty Images)
Journalist Evan Gershkovich (AFP via Getty Images)

‘Too early’ to talk of prisoner swap for US reporter, Russian minister says

Thursday 30 March 2023 13:30 , Emily Atkinson

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov says it is too early to talk of a possible prisoner swap involving a detained US reporter who has been held on suspicion of spying, the state RIA news agency reported.

The Interfax news agency cited Ryabkov as saying that such exchanges had previously taken place for those already convicted, and that it was necessary to wait to see how the story with Evan Gershkovich developed.

Russia to keep missile test notices under Cold War-era deal

Thursday 30 March 2023 13:00 , Emily Atkinson

Russia will continue to give the US advance notice about its missile tests despite suspending the last remaining nuclear arms treaty between the two countries, a top Russian diplomat has said.

Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov’s statement reversed one he made on Wednesday, when he said Moscow had halted all information exchanges with Washington envisioned under the 2011 New START nuclear pact, including missile test warnings.

More on this here:

Russia to keep missile test notices under Cold War-era deal

Zelensky describes ‘horrific’ year in Kyiv region

Thursday 30 March 2023 12:20 , Emily Atkinson

The past year had been “the most horrific” in the lives of many residents of the Kyiv region, Ukraine‘s president said on Thursday, where Russian troops are accused of committing war crimes before withdrawing a year ago

The Ukrainian military recaptured the small towns of Irpin and Bucha outside the capital, Kyiv, in late March last year.

International investigators are now collecting evidence in Irpin, Bucha and other places where Ukraine says Russian troops committed large-scale atrocities. Russia denies the allegations.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

“For many residents of the Kyiv region, the past year has become the most horrific in their entire lives. And the liberation of the Kyiv region has become a symbol of the fact that Ukraine will be able to win this war,” president Volodymyr Zelensky wrote in English on the Telegram messaging app.

“Events that could not be imagined in the 21st century have become a reality in the satellite cities of Kyiv, Bucha and Irpin. Russian troops marched on the Ukrainian capital from the north and brought death and destruction.”

Zelensky wrote his Telegram post under video footage showing heavily damaged buildings and vehicles that had been destroyed in Bucha and Irpin.

Kremlin says US reporter ‘caught red-handed’

Thursday 30 March 2023 11:48 , Emily Atkinson

The Kremlin said on Thursday that the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich by Russia’s FSB security service on suspicion of spying was “a matter for the FSB”, but that it understood Gershkovich had been “caught red-handed”.

 (Screengrab: YouTube/ France24)
(Screengrab: YouTube/ France24)

Russian did not publish any evidence of Gershkovich’s guilt. The Wall Street Journal vehemently denied the allegation.

Russia in contact with IAEA on 'evolving' idea of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant safety zone

Thursday 30 March 2023 10:51 , Emily Atkinson

Moscow is still in talks with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency about the idea of a safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant that is controlled by Russian forces in Ukraine, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov was reported as saying.

RIA quoted him as saying that the idea was “evolving”. Interfax quoted Ryabkov as saying Moscow was in “constant contact” with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi.

China’s role in Ukraine conflict vital to EU relations, says von der Leyen

Thursday 30 March 2023 10:31 , Emily Atkinson

China must play a part in pressing for a “just peace” in Ukraine and its role in the conflict will be vital in shaping relations with the European Union, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.

China, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, had a responsibility to play a constructive role in advancing a peace based on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, with the withdrawal of invading Russian forces.

 (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“Any peace plan which would in effect consolidate Russian annexations is simply not a viable plan. We have to be frank on this point,” von der Leyen said in a speech in Brussels on the eve of a trip to Beijing.

“How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward.”

Four bankers who helped Putin's friend set up Swiss bank account convicted

Thursday 30 March 2023 09:51 , Emily Atkinson

Four bankers who helped a close friend of Vladimir Putin move millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts have been convicted of lacking diligence in financial transactions.

The four were found guilty on Thursday of helping Sergey Roldugin, a concert cellist who has been dubbed “Putin’s wallet” by the Swiss government.

The executives - three Russians and one Swiss - helped Roldugin, who is godfather to Putin’s eldest daughter Maria, deposit millions of francs in Swiss bank accounts between 2014 and 2016.

The men, who cannot be identified under Swiss reporting restrictions, were found guilty at a hearing at Zurich District Court and were given suspended sentences of seven months each.

Waall Street Journal reporter in Russia 'detained on suspicion of spying’

Thursday 30 March 2023 09:20 , Emily Atkinson

Russia’s FSB security service has claimed that a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich, had been detained in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of espionage, the Interfax news agency reported.

In a statement quoted by Interfax, the FSB said it had “stopped the illegal activities of U.S. citizen Gershkovich Evan, born in 1991, a correspondent of the Moscow bureau of the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal, accredited at the Russian Foreign Ministry, who is suspected of spying in the interests of the American government”.

The statement said Gershkovich had been tasked “by the American side” with gathering information on “the activities of one of the enterprises of the military-defence complex”. It provided no evidence.

Watch: Russia’s defence chiefs released a video showing patrol trucks carrying missiles

Thursday 30 March 2023 08:30 , Emily Atkinson

Russian man sentenced to prison after daughter’s anti-war picture detained, says lawyer

Thursday 30 March 2023 08:00 , Emily Atkinson

A Russian man who was sentenced to two years in prison for discrediting the Russian armed forces, and whose daughter was taken into care after she drew an anti-war picture at school, has been detained, reports say.

News of Alexei Moskalyov’s detention was confirmed to Reuters by human rights activist and lawyer Dmitry Zakhvatov on Thursday.

He vanished from his home during the night on Tuesday, hours before being sentenced to two years for discrediting the Russian armed forces.

Masha Moskaleva’s drawing featured both the Ukrainian and Russian flags, emblazoned with the words “No to war” and “Glory to Ukraine”, and a woman shielding her child from Moscow’s missiles.

It was reported earlier this month by independent rights watchdog OVD-Info that the 13-year-old’s art teacher reported her work to the school’s headteacher, who then alerted Russian authorities.

 (AP)
(AP)

Local law enforcement in the town of Yefremov in the Tula region, south of Moscow, took action in April 2022, charging Mr Moskalyov, 53, with “discrediting” the Russian army for an anti-war comment he wrote on social media platform Odnoklassniki.

His daughter was taken to a foster care facility in Yefremov.

In a letter shared yesterday, Miss Moskaleva urged her father not to give up and told him to “believe, love and hope”.

“Hi Dad, I really ask you not to get sick and not to worry,” the letter said. “Everything is fine with me, I love you very much and know that you’re not guilty of anything. I am always on your side, and everything you do is right,” she wrote.

Written neatly on lined paper, the letter ended with “I love you” in English, and the words “you are a hero” inside a heart.

Russian forces advance on Bakhmit

Thursday 30 March 2023 07:33 , Emily Atkinson

US thinktank the Institute for the Study of War’s said this morning that “geolocated footage published on March 28 and 29 indicates that Russian forces advanced in southern and southwestern Bakhmut.”

It comes after officials on the Ukrainian side said that Russian forces have witnessed some success in Bakhmut over the past day after being stalled around the Donetsk city for weeks in a slow-burning fight.

Putin may force 400,000 troops to join war in new volunteer campaign, says UK

Thursday 30 March 2023 06:55 , Arpan Rai

The Vladimir Putin regime will possibly coerce men signing up for volunteer programme to be mobilised, the British defence ministry has said today.

Recent Russian media reporting suggests that the authorities are preparing to start a major military recruitment campaign with the aim of signing up an additional 400,000 troops.

The ministry noted that Russia is presenting the campaign as a drive for volunteer, professional personnel, rather than a new, mandatory mobilisation.

“There is a realistic possibility that in practice this distinction will be blurred, and that regional authorities will try to meet their allocated recruitment targets by coercing men to join up,” the MoD said.

It added: “Russian authorities have likely selected a supposedly ‘volunteer model’ to meet their personnel shortfall in order to minimise domestic dissent. It is highly unlikely that the campaign will attract 400,000 genuine volunteers.”

“However, rebuilding Russia’s combat power in Ukraine will require more than just personnel; Russia needs more munitions and military equipment supplies than it currently has available,” the ministry said.

Xi Jinping should visit Ukraine, says White House

Thursday 30 March 2023 06:33 , Arpan Rai

The White House has said that Chinese president Xi Jinping should speak to Volodymyr Zelensky and a visit should be made to the war-torn country.

National security spokesperson was asked if he believes that Mr Xi should visit Ukraine, as suggested by the Ukrainian president.

“We certainly support, at the very least, a conversation between president Xi and president Zelensky. And, my goodness, we’ve been saying that for weeks,” he said.

IOC not stalling decision over Russia and Belarus, insists Thomas Bach

Thursday 30 March 2023 06:15 , Joe Middleton

The International Olympic Committee has set out new recommendations governing how Russian and Belarusian athletes can return to international sport, writes Jamie Gardner.

IOC not stalling decision over Russia and Belarus, insists Thomas Bach

UN nuclear watchdog in Ukraine: ‘Military activity is rising'

Thursday 30 March 2023 06:04 , Arpan Rai

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi is on a repeat visit to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and has said that is a “significant increase” in the number of troops in the region.

“It is obvious that military activity is increasing in this whole region. So the plant can’t be protected,” he said.

A recording of the briefing was made available to Reuters.

Mr Grossi said he was putting aside plans for a security zone around the plant so he could propose specific protection measures acceptable to both Russia and Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – the biggest nuclear facility in Europe – was a prized part of Ukraine‘s energy network and accounted for about 20 per cent of national power generation before the invasion. It has not produced any electricity since September, when the last of its six reactors was taken offline, leaving tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians hunkering down inside their houses in biting sub-zero temperatures during the winter.

Russian forces shelled towns in central Zaporizhzhia region, including the contested centre of Hulyaipole, the Ukrainian general staff said.

Russia has suffered more than 220,0000 casualties so far, says Ben Wallace

Thursday 30 March 2023 05:50 , Arpan Rai

The latest assessments show Russian casualties in the continuing war in Ukraine to be more than 220,0000, the British defence secretary has said.

“The Russian forces have some really significant and deep systemic problems at the moment in their efforts. The latest US assessments I have seen now put casualty figures over 220,0000 of dead or injured,” Mr Wallace said.

Just last month, the British intelligence had put the number of casualties between 175,000 to 200,000 for the Russian forces and their private military contractor forces, adding that this likely included between 40,000 and 60,000 killed.

ICYMI: Donald Trump says he could 'solve' Ukraine war ‘in 24 hours’

Thursday 30 March 2023 05:15 , Joe Middleton

Kyiv monks accused of Russia links refuse eviction order

Thursday 30 March 2023 05:01 , Arpan Rai

Orthodox monks who’ve been ordered out of a monastery in Kyiv have refused to leave today, as a deadline to vacate the complex expired.

The dispute over the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery, Ukraine’s most revered Orthodox site, is part of a wider religious conflict playing out in parallel with the war.

The monks using the property belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been accused of links to Russia.

Read the full story here:

Kyiv monks accused of Russia links refuse eviction order

Sanctions for man who ‘tried to arrange sale of weapons to Russia'

Thursday 30 March 2023 19:50 , Katy Clifton

The US said yesterday it had imposed sanctions on a Slovakian man for trying to arrange the sale of over two dozen types of North Korean weapons and munitions to Russia to help Moscow replace military equipment lost in its war with Ukraine.

The action, which comes as Washington warned that Russia is seeking to acquire additional weapons from North Korea, is the latest in a series of sanctions the US has imposed targeting Moscow and its attempts to obtain military equipment. The conflict in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands and reduced many cities to rubble.

The US Treasury Department said in a statement it had imposed sanctions on Slovakian national Ashot Mkrtychev “for having attempted to, directly or indirectly, import, export, or re-export to, into, or from the DPRK any arms or related materiel.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violates UN charter, says Singapore PM

Thursday 30 March 2023 04:33 , Arpan Rai

Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong has said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has gravely violated the United Nations charter and international law.

Mr Lee was speaking at the Boao forum in the southern Chinese island province of Hainan.

Big powers have the responsibility of maintaining stable and workable relations with one another, and the most worrying is the state of relations between the United States and China, he said today.

Russia convicts father of teen who drew antiwar pictures

Thursday 30 March 2023 04:15 , Joe Middleton

A Russian court on Tuesday convicted a single father over social media posts criticizing the war in Ukraine and sentenced him to two years in prison — a case brought to the attention of authorities by his daughter’s drawings against the invasion at school, according to his lawyer and activists.

The case of Alexei Moskalyov, who was indicted and tried in his hometown of Yefremov, about 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) south of Moscow, has drawn international attention and is a grim indication that the Kremlin is intensifying its crackdown on dissent, targeting more people and handing out harsher punishments for any expression of criticism of the war.

Russia convicts father of teen who drew antiwar pictures

Russia sees a ‘degree of success’ in Bakhmut, says Ukraine

Thursday 30 March 2023 04:12 , Arpan Rai

Russian forces have witnessed some success in Bakhmut over the past day after being stalled around the Donetsk city for weeks in a slow-burning fight, officials from the Ukrainian side have said.

“Enemy forces had a degree of success in their actions aimed at storming the city of Bakhmut,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its regular night-time report.

“Our defenders are holding the city and are repelling numerous enemy attacks,” the top military command said.

For four straight weeks of this month, the average number of daily Russian attacks on the front line reported by Ukraine‘s general staff has declined.

Whereas earlier Russian attacks were recorded to be around 124 in the first week of March, the next seven days saw 69 attacks.

On Wednesday, this dipped further to 57 attacks.

Journalists near the frontline west of Bakhmut and in the northern sector have also observed notable declines in the intensity of Russian attacks last week.

After prematurely announcing the capture of most of Bakhmut in early March, the Russian officials now say that their forces are in the process of gaining ground in street-by-street fighting.

Eurovision festival ‘a celebration of Ukraine tinged with bitterness of war’

Thursday 30 March 2023 03:15 , Joe Middleton

A festival accompanying the Eurovision Song Contest will be a celebration of Ukraine “tinged with bitterness” as the war continues in the European country.

EuroFestival, a two-week series of events in Liverpool, has announced 24 culture commissions for May which include a performance by Ukrainian Eurovision Song Contest winner Jamala and collaborations between British artists and Ukrainian artists.

Tetyana Filevska, creative director at the Ukrainian Institute, told the PA news agency at the British Music Experience in Liverpool, during the launch of the programme on Tuesday, that celebrating her culture is a form of “resistance”.

Eurovision festival ‘a celebration of Ukraine tinged with bitterness of war’

ICYMI: Sunak defends use of British munitions stockpiles to support Ukraine

Thursday 30 March 2023 02:15 , Joe Middleton

British ammunition stockpiles are being used for the purpose they were intended – degrading Russia’s fighting ability, Rishi Sunak has said.

The Prime Minister said he would “not necessarily see it as a negative” that levels of shells and missiles were being run down because they were being used to deter the threat from Vladimir Putin’s military.

Mr Sunak’s comments came as British-supplied Challenger 2 tanks were poised to begin combat missions in Ukraine.

Sunak defends use of British munitions stockpiles to support Ukraine

UN atomic watchdog chief returns to Ukraine nuclear plant

Thursday 30 March 2023 01:15 , Joe Middleton

The head of the U.N.’s atomic energy watchdog returned Wednesday to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, a day after saying a deal to protect Europe’s largest nuclear power facility from a catastrophic accident due to the war in Ukraine was “close.”

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi crossed the war’s front lines for a second time to reach the plant, which is located in a partially Russia-occupied part of Ukraine where combat has intensified.

The IAEA, which is based in Vienna, Austria, has a rotating team permanently based at the plant. Grossi told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday he feels it is his duty to ramp up talks between Kyiv and Moscow aimed at safeguarding the facility.

UN atomic watchdog chief returns to Ukraine nuclear plant

World's first research hub for child blast injuries opens to support Ukraine war victims

Wednesday 29 March 2023 22:15 , Joe Middleton

Putin using Bakhmut to destroy Wagner Group and ‘put its chief in his place’, says ISW

Wednesday 29 March 2023 21:15 , Joe Middleton

Analyst says Ukraine battle – in which the Russian side has suffered heavy casualties – is part of a wider Kremlin power play, writes Arpan Rai.

Putin using Bakhmut to ‘largely destroy Wagner Group and put its chief in his place’

Russia to stop warning US before carrying out missile tests

Wednesday 29 March 2023 20:15 , Joe Middleton

Russia will no longer tell the US before carrying out missile tests, a senior Kremlin diplomat said, signalling an end to a decades-long practice that has eased the threat of nuclear escalation.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russian deputy foreign minister, said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that Moscow had halted all information exchanges with Washington after recently withdrawing from the last remaining nuclear arms pact with the US.

The two nations have exchanged advance warnings about test launches for decades, along with information about the current state of their nuclear forces.

Liam James reports.

Russia to stop warning US before carrying out missile tests

Ukraine’s Zelensky is ‘ready’ for Chinese leader to visit

Wednesday 29 March 2023 19:15 , Joe Middleton

Ukraine’s president invited his powerful Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to visit the war-torn nation, saying they haven’t been in contact since the war began and he is “ready to see him here.”

“I want to speak with him,” Volodymyr Zelensky told The Associated Press on Tuesday, the week after Xi visited Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. China had no immediate response about whether a Xi visit to Ukraine would happen.

Ukraine's Zelenskyy is 'ready' for Chinese leader to visit

ICYMI: Donald Trump says he could 'solve' Ukraine war ‘in 24 hours’

Wednesday 29 March 2023 18:15 , Joe Middleton

Poland urges EU to limit influx of Ukrainian grain

Wednesday 29 March 2023 17:15 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Poland wants the European Union to use all tools at its disposal to limit the amount of Ukrainian grain entering the bloc’s market, the prime minister said on Wednesday, amid fury among farmers over the effect of imports on Polish grain prices.

Mounting anger in the countryside over the influx of Ukrainian grain poses a major headache for Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party in an election year, as its conservative voter base mainly lives in rural areas and small towns.

“We demand the use of all regulatory instruments - quotas, tariffs, which will limit or block the import of Ukrainian grain into Poland,” Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.

Morawiecki said he had agreed with the leaders of several countries bordering Ukraine to write to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to demand action.

Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, has seen its Black Sea ports blocked since Russia invaded more than a year ago and has been forced to find alternative shipping routes through European Union states Poland and Romania.

But logistical bottlenecks mean large quantities of Ukrainian grains, which are cheaper than those produced in the European Union, have ended up in central European states, hurting prices and sales of local farmers.

Morawiecki spoke as Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk met with farmers representatives, who have dismissed government aid proposed so far as inadequate.

“Money is due for every hectare of grain, losses must be covered,” said Michal Kolodziejczak, founder of the Agrounia group ahead of roundtable talks with the government. “There must be at least 6 billion zlotys ($1.39 billion) to cover these losses.”

“I’m not going to leave unless there are good solutions here. The police will have to take us out.”

The figure cited by Kolodziejczak was ten times higher than the 600-million-zloty aid programme approved by the European Commission on Monday, which the government says will help compensate farmers for their losses.

Kowalczyk recently had to be escorted out of an agricultural fair in the central Polish city of Kielce after he was accosted by a crowd of angry farmers and had eggs thrown at him at another event.

Takeaways from AP's interview with Ukraine's Zelenskyy

Wednesday 29 March 2023 16:45 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A team of journalists from The Associated Press spent two days traveling by train with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he visited the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, which still faces regular shelling from Russian forces, and northern towns in the Sumy region that were liberated shortly after the war began a year ago.

The AP is the first news organization to travel extensively with Zelenskyy since the war began. Here are some takeaways from an interview with Zelenskyy as he returned to Kyiv late Tuesday.

Takeaways from AP's interview with Ukraine's Zelenskyy

Object near Nord Stream 2 pipeline poses no safety risk

Wednesday 29 March 2023 16:15 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

An object found close to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea appeared to be a maritime buoy and does not pose a safety risk, the Danish Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

The object, which was retrieved on Tuesday by the Danish navy, was discovered during an inspection of the last remaining intact pipeline by Swiss-based operator Nord Stream 2 AG.

“Investigations indicate that the object is an empty maritime smoke buoy, which is used for visual marking. The object does not pose a safety risk,” the agency said in a statement.

Last week, Denmark invited the Russian-controlled Nord Stream operator to assist in retrieving the object. A representative from Nord Stream 2 AG was present during the operation, which was carried out at a depth of 73 meters, the agency said.

Putin using Bakhmut to destroy Wagner Group and ‘put its chief in his place’, says ISW

Wednesday 29 March 2023 15:49 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russia’s months-long battle to capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is being used by the Kremlin to “largely destroy” the private Wagner Group and put its chief Yevgeny Prigozhin “in his place”, according to experts monitoring the conflict.

Analysts have suggested an ulterior motive to the Russian leadership’s determination to keep throwing mercenary units into the bloody siege, with disagreements over Ukraine increasingly driving a wedge between Vladimir Putin and his long-time ally.

The Wagner Group has trained and deployed thousands of convicted criminals in Ukraine – promised their freedom if they can survive six months on the frontline – ever since the Russian president launched his full-scale invasion of the former Soviet nation.

Arpan Rai reports:

Putin using Bakhmut to ‘largely destroy Wagner Group and put its chief in his place’

Ukraine condemns IOC recommendations on Russian and Belarusian athletes

Wednesday 29 March 2023 15:23 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Ukraine‘s sports ministry condemned on Wednesday what it said was a partial change of position by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in international competitions as neutrals.

The IOC issued recommendations on Tuesday for the athletes’ gradual return to world sport, with President Thomas Bach saying their participation “works” despite Russia‘s war in Ukraine.

“The Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine condemns the partial change of the position of the International Olympic Committee regarding the non-admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes,” a written ministry statement said.

“We have consistently advocated and will continue to insist that under the conditions of the unprecedented unprovoked military aggression of the Russian Federation with the support of the Republic of Belarus against Ukraine, which contradicts the principles of the Olympic Charter, representatives of aggressor states should not be present at international sports arenas.”

The ministry said the recommendations should primarily be applied to sports where athletes from Russia and Belarus have already been admitted to competitions.

The head of Russia‘s Olympic Committee said the criteria announced by the IOC were unacceptable. The Kremlin said the IOC’s guidelines that allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in contained “elements of discrimination”.

The recommendations made by the IOC executive board concern the return of athletes to international competitions but not specifically the 2024 Paris Olympics, for which a separate decision will be taken at a later date.

Ukraine and some of its allies have threatened to boycott the Paris Games should they compete, even as neutrals.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach (AFP via Getty Images)
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach (AFP via Getty Images)

UN atomic watchdog returns to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

Wednesday 29 March 2023 14:51 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

The head of the UN’s atomic energy watchdog has returned to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, a day after saying a deal to protect Europe’s largest nuclear power facility from a catastrophic accident due to the war in Ukraine was “close”.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Rafael Mariano Grossi crossed the war’s front lines for a second time to reach the plant, which is located in a partially Russia-occupied part of Ukraine where combat has intensified.

The IAEA, which is based in Vienna, Austria, has a rotating team permanently based at the plant.

Mr Grossi told The Associated Press (AP) in an interview on Tuesday that he felt it was his duty to ramp up talks between Kyiv and Moscow aimed at safeguarding the facility.

He met on Monday with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and said he would “most probably” head to Moscow in the coming days.

But Mr Zelensky said in a separate interview with the AP that he was less optimistic a deal was near.

“I don’t feel it today,” he said.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visits the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine (AFP via Getty Images)
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visits the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine (AFP via Getty Images)

Spain to send six tanks to Ukraine after Easter

Wednesday 29 March 2023 14:20 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Spain will send six German-made 2A4 Leopard tanks to Ukraine after the April 9 Easter holiday to support Kyiv’s efforts to fend off Russia‘s invasion, Defence Minister Margarita Robles told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Robles said the country had just repaired the fighting vehicles that have not been used since the 1990s, and was testing their combat readiness before shipping them.

“By sending the Leopards, we will continue to help the Ukrainian people... to defend themselves against an absolutely unjust attack,” she said, adding that Spain would now repair another four tanks which will be sent “in the near future”.

The Spanish military has trained Ukrainian tank crews for several weeks in the northeastern city of Zaragoza.

Earlier this week, 18 Leopard 2 tanks pledged by Germany and three pledged by Portugal arrived in Ukraine, which says the fighting vehicles are crucial to defeat the Russian invasion. Moscow calls the deliveries of Western weapons a dangerous provocation.

IAEA chief: situation at Ukrainian nuclear plant hasn't improved

Wednesday 29 March 2023 13:50 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said on Wednesday that the situation at Ukraine‘s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant had not improved and that fighting nearby had intensified, Russian news agencies reported.

Moscow and Kyiv have repeatedly accused each other of shelling the site of the power plant over the last year. Grossi has been pushing for a safety agreement between Ukraine and Russia to protect the facility. (

Russia stops sharing nuclear information with US

Wednesday 29 March 2023 13:20 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A senior Russian diplomat said Moscow had suspended sharing information about its nuclear forces with the United States, including notices about missile tests.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that Moscow had halted all information exchanges with Washington after previously suspending its participation in the last remaining nuclear arms pact with the US.

Last month, Russian president Vladimir Putin suspended the New START treaty, saying Russia could not accept US inspections of its nuclear sites under the agreement at a time when Washington and its Nato allies had openly declared Russia‘s defeat in Ukraine as their goal.

Moscow emphasised that it was not withdrawing from the pact altogether and would continue to respect the caps on nuclear weapons.

The Russian foreign ministry initially said Moscow would keep notifying the US about planned test launches of its ballistic missiles.

Russia's Wagner chief says battle for Bakhmut damaged his forces

Wednesday 29 March 2023 13:03 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

The head of Russia‘s Wagner mercenary group said on Wednesday that fighting to take control of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut had “practically destroyed” the Ukrainian army but also “badly damaged” his forces.

“The battle for Bakhmut today has already practically destroyed the Ukrainian army, and unfortunately, it has also badly damaged the Wagner Private Military Company,” Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio message.

 (AP)
(AP)

Russia says it has stopped all data exchanges with U.S. on nuclear weapons

Wednesday 29 March 2023 12:38 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russia‘s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday that Moscow had stopped notifying the United States about its nuclear activities, including test launches, after it pulled out of the New START arms control treaty last month.

“All notifications, all forms of notification, all data exchange, all inspection activities, in general all kinds of work under the treaty are suspended, they will not be carried out,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.a

Russia launches drills of its nuclear missile forces

Wednesday 29 March 2023 12:07 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

The Russian military conducted drills of its strategic missile forces Wednesday, deploying mobile launchers in Siberia in a show of the country’s massive nuclear capability amid the fighting in Ukraine.

As part of the drills, the Yars mobile missile launchers will maneuver across three regions of Siberia, Russia‘s Defense Ministry said. The movements will involve measures to conceal the deployment from foreign satellites and other intelligence assets, the ministry said.

The Defense Ministry didn’t say how long the drills would last or mention plans for any practice launches. The Yars is a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of about 11,000 kilometers (over 6,800 miles). It forms the backbone of Russia‘s strategic missile forces.

The Defense Ministry released a video showing massive trucks carrying the missiles driving out from a base to go on patrol. The maneuvers involve about 300 vehicles and 3,000 troops in eastern Siberia, according to the ministry.

The massive exercise took place days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, Russia‘s neighbor and ally.

Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for use on the battlefield and have a relatively short range and a much lower yield compared to the long-range strategic missiles fitted with nuclear warheads that are capable of obliterating whole cities.

Putin’s decision to put the tactical weapons in Belarus followed his repeated warnings that Moscow was ready to use “all available means” — a reference to its nuclear arsenal — to fend off attacks on Russian territory.

Sweden summons Russian envoy over 'retaliation' remark

Wednesday 29 March 2023 11:14 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Sweden’s Foreign ministry on Wednesday summoned the Russian ambassador after Moscow’s diplomatic mission to Stockholm posted on its website that the Scandinavian country would become a “legitimate target for Russia‘s retaliatory measures” if it joins NATO.

Foreign Minister Tobias Billström decried what he called an “obvious attempt at influence.”

Billström told Swedish news agency TT that the country’s security policy is determined by its government and no one else.

It’s unclear when the Russian ambassador will appear at the Foreign Ministry.

In May, Sweden and neighboring Finland angered Moscow after jointly applying for NATO membership, abandoning decades of non-alignment in the wake of Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Sweden’s bid has stalled due to opposition from Turkey whose president has said his country wouldn’t ratify membership before disputes between Ankara and Stockholm are resolved.

The Turkish government has accused Sweden of being too soft on groups that it deems to be terror organizations.

Moreover, Hungary’s parliament has yet to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership bid and it remains unclear when it will do so.

Russia starts exercises with Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles

Wednesday 29 March 2023 10:30 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russia has begun exercises with its Yars intercontinental ballistic missile system and several thousand troops, its defence ministry said on Wednesday, in what is likely to be seen as another attempt by Moscow to show off its nuclear strength.

President Vladimir Putin has aimed to make the Yars missile system, which replaced the Topol system, part of Russia‘s “invincible weapons” and the mainstay of the ground-based component of its nuclear arsenal.

“In total, more than 3,000 military personnel and about 300 pieces of equipment are involved in the exercises,” the defence ministry said in a statement on the Telegram messaging service.

The drills involve the Strategic Missile Forces comprehensive control checking of the Omsk missile formation together with a command and staff exercise with the Novosibirsk missile formation equipped with the Yars systems.

During the exercises, the Yars mobile systems will conduct manoeuvres in three Russian regions, the ministry said, without identifying the regions.

“Also, strategic missilemen will carry out a set of measures to camouflage and counter modern aerial reconnaissance means in cooperation with formations and units of the Central Military District and the Aerospace Forces.”

There are few confirmed tactical and technical characteristics of the Yars mobile intercontinental ballistic missile systems, which reportedly have an operational range of 12,000 km (7,500 miles).

According to military bloggers, the systems are able to carry multiple independently targetable nuclear warheads and can be mounted on a truck carriers or deployed in silos.

Hungary says 'grievances' hold up ratification of Sweden's NATO accession

Wednesday 29 March 2023 10:00 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Hungary is holding up Sweden’s admission to NATO because of grievances over criticism by Stockholm of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policies, the Hungarian government spokesman said on Wednesday.

Bridging the gap will require effort on both sides, spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said.

Sweden and its neighbour Finland asked to join the NATO military alliance last year following Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine. But the process has been held up by Hungary and Turkey.

After months of foot-dragging by Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, Hungary’s parliament approved a bill on Monday to allow Finland to join NATO but the Swedish bill is still stranded.

“In the case of Sweden, there is an ample amount of grievances that need to be addressed before the country’s admission is ratified,” Kovacs said on his blog.

Hungary’s PM Victor Orban (AP)
Hungary’s PM Victor Orban (AP)

Swedish representatives “have been repeatedly keen to bash Hungary through diplomatic means, using their political influence to harm Hungarian interests”, he said, referring to Swedish criticism over the erosion of rule of law by Orban’s government in the past 13 years. Orban denies these allegations.

He said Stockholm had taken a “hostile attitude” to Budapest for years.

“Adding Ankara’s woes and grievances to the mix does not leave much room to manoeuvre, at least not until the Swedes start changing their tune and help these lingering wounds heal,” Kovacs said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkey’s parliament would also start ratifying Finland’s accession. But it held off approving Sweden’s bid, accusing it of harbouring Kurdish militants.

Russia's Patrushev says Moscow is committed to preventing nuclear war

Wednesday 29 March 2023 09:30 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said on Wednesday that Moscow is committed to preventing nuclear war and military confrontation between nuclear-armed states, the TASS news agency reported.

It comes after his earlier comments where he said Russia “has modern unique weapons capable of destroying any adversary, including the United States, in the event of a threat to its existence”.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

UN nuclear boss heads to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

Wednesday 29 March 2023 08:59 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog set off on Wednesday for Russian-occupied southeastern Ukraine to visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station for the second time since Moscow’s forces invaded last year.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says he is travelling to Europe’s largest nuclear power station to review the situation there as part of a push to reduce the risk of a major accident.

Moscow and Kyiv have repeatedly accused each other of shelling the site of the power station over the last year. Grossi has pushing for a safety agreement between Ukraine and Russia to protect the facility.

An IAEA spokesperson confirmed Grossi was on his way to the plant. He said Grossi was in the Zaporizhzhia region, but declined to say where. He shared a photograph of Grossi standing in body armour by an armoured U.N. car on the side of a road.

Grossi told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro that his attempt to broker a deal to protect the nuclear plant was still alive, and that he was adjusting the proposals to seek a breakthrough.

Grossi, who met President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday, described the situation at the plant as “very dangerous” and very unstable.

The IAEA has had its own monitors stationed at the Zaporizhzhia plant since last year, when Grossi travelled to the facility and fears were mounting of the possibility for a nuclear accident.

Rafael Grossi with Volodymyr Zelensky (AP)
Rafael Grossi with Volodymyr Zelensky (AP)