Day 373 of the Invasion of Ukraine: “Wagner” claims Bakhmut is Practically Surrounded
Day 373 of the invasion of Ukraine. Summary of key events in the last 24 hours:
- Bakhmut is practically surrounded, claims the head of "Wagner"
- Ukrainian forces have repelled over 170 Russian attacks on the front in 24 hours
- Top Quad diplomats have condemned Russia's threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine
- The US suspects China of arming Russia
- Slovakia is giving its old weapons to Ukraine, remaining calm under the umbrella of NATO
- "We will support Ukraine as much as necessary": "unplanned" meeting of Blinken and Lavrov
Bakhmut is practically surrounded, claims the head of "Wagner"
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary military company, said today in a video that the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is practically surrounded by Russian forces, Reuters reported.
Prigozhin, dressed in a military uniform in the clip, called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to withdraw his forces from the city, which "Wagner" has been trying to capture for months. He added that the Ukrainian troops were left with an evacuation route.
⚡️I translated Prigozhin’s message to Zelenskyy: pic.twitter.com/ySqOIWJyJD— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) March 3, 2023
Prigozhin's men have been at the forefront of the offensive in eastern Ukraine for months. Moscow sees Bakhmut, which it calls Artyomovsk by its Soviet-era name, as a springboard for the capture of larger cities such as Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
"If earlier a professional Ukrainian army fought with us, today we see more and more old men and children. They fight, but their life in Bakhmut is short - a day or two. Give them a chance to leave the city," Prigozhin was quoted as saying. from TASS.
Ukrainian forces have repelled over 170 Russian attacks on the front in 24 hours
In Ukraine, fighting continues around the eastern city of Bakhmut. Ukrainian forces are digging new trenches in an attempt to hold off the Russian attackers.
Authorities in Kyiv rejected Russia's claim that "Ukrainian saboteurs" had invaded Russia's border region of Bryansk and attacked civilians.
In the past 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have repelled more than 170 attacks along the five main front-line directions, the military said.
Russian forces have been attacking Bakhmut for months, as Moscow sees the city as key to establishing control over the industrial Donbas region.
President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Russia had been hit by a terrorist attack in its southern Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine. Putin called the attackers "neo-Nazis and terrorists" and vowed to destroy the Ukrainian sabotage group that fired on civilians.
"Classic deliberate provocation!" This is what official Kyiv called Russia's claim. Moscow aims to intimidate the Russians and justify its aggression against Ukraine and the growing poverty in Russia, said Mykhailo Podoliak - adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In the meantime, the so-called “Russian Volunteer Corps” which claims to be fighting on the side of Ukraine, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Last night, a Russian missile hit a five-story building in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, killing at least four people. In a late video address, President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the attack and said it would trigger a military and legal response from Ukraine, and the occupier would inevitably feel Ukrainian strength.
Meanwhile, it was reported that Ukrainian authorities have ordered the evacuation of some residents of the city of Kupyansk and other settlements in the area due to fears that Russian forces may launch an offensive to capture them.
Kupyansk is an important railway junction in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast, which Ukrainian forces regained control of in September.
Medvedev warned NATO
Meanwhile, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned NATO not to send fighter jets to Ukraine and not to carry out maintenance activities in Poland, DPA reported.
According to him, this would be tantamount to directly starting a war against Russia.
"Anyone who decides to supply (or repair) such equipment or means of destruction, along with foreign mercenaries and military instructors, will have to be seen as a legitimate military target," Medvedev wrote on Telegram.
More US military aid to Ukraine
The United States will announce a new package of military aid to Ukraine later today, said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.
Continued military aid to Ukraine will also be a topic of discussion between US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz when the two leaders meet at the White House later today, Kirby said.
The United States is not providing Ukraine with intelligence on targets inside Russia, Pentagon spokesman General Pat Ryder said. He called Russian accusations of this "nonsense." "We are not at war with Russia, nor are we seeking war with Russia," said Brigadier General Ryder.
Top Quad diplomats have condemned Russia's threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine
Foreign ministers from the so-called Quad group condemned Russia's threat to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine as unacceptable, Reuters reported.
In a statement released after a meeting today, the ministers also said they opposed any unilateral action to increase tensions in the South China Sea.
"Quad" unites India, Australia, Japan and the United States.
The US suspects China of arming Russia
The United States has "no indication" that China has decided to supply weapons to Russia, but that possibility remains "on the table," a White House spokesman said.
"This is not a move that would serve the interests of the Chinese and their standing in the international community, which we know they value highly," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. "We have communicated to the Chinese our concerns about this," Kirby added. US officials have launched a broad diplomatic offensive this past week to warn China against providing lethal aid, which experts say could have a profound impact on the war in Ukraine, now entering its second year.
So far, Beijing has strongly denied accusations that it is considering such a move. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Beijing not to arm the "aggressor Russia", while France urged China to be careful.
Slovakia is giving its old weapons to Ukraine, remaining calm under the umbrella of NATO
The former Soviet satellite Slovakia has been a NATO member state since 2004, but its membership in the world's largest military alliance began to take real shape only after the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a year ago, the Associated Press reported.
The small central European country now hosts thousands of NATO troops and allied warplanes patrol its airspace, allowing Slovakia to consider becoming the first country to send fighter jets to neighboring Ukraine, thereby ridding itself of difficult for maintenance aircraft of the Soviet era.
Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad is grateful.
"I would say that the Slovak Republic is a safer country in an increasingly uncertain world," Nad said in an interview with AP in Bratislava.
"We have not forgotten what it is like to have occupiers on our territory," the minister added, referring to the Soviet-led military intervention in 1968 in former Czechoslovakia. In 1993, Slovakia peacefully seceded from the Czech Republic, four years after the fall of the communist regime.
The country of 5.4 million people is hosting a battle group made up of soldiers from the US, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the Czech Republic after NATO took steps to ensure the security of member states on its eastern flank, worried from a potential threat from Russia.
"The message behind the deployment of all these military units is simple," the commander of the battle group, Czech colonel Karel Navratil, told the AP, adding: "Our task is deterrence ... to deter the potential aggressor from spreading aggression to NATO member states.".
Similar battlegroups were established in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria after the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. They add to four more deployed in 2017 in the three Baltic republics and Poland, with the aim of expanding NATO's presence from the Baltics to the Black Sea.
At the military training ground in Lešt, central Slovakia, amid the snow-covered hills, troops recently held joint exercises with scenarios involving drone and artillery strikes, responding to a chemical weapons attack or retaking areas seized by enemy forces.
The multinational force is expected to be put on "combat alert" as early as this month.
Slovakia is also working to modernize its own armed forces to NATO standards. This is welcome for the beleaguered Ukraine, where most of Slovakia's old Soviet heavy weapons are sent.
These weapons include the S-300 air defense systems, helicopters, thousands of missiles for the Grad rocket launchers, as well as dozens of armored fighting vehicles. In return, American Patriot air defense systems supported by American, German and Dutch troops were temporarily stationed in Slovakia, and Bratislava also received German Leopard tanks and Mantis air defense systems, also of German manufacture.
In total, Slovakia has provided Ukraine with weapons worth almost 168 million euros (9 million) and has provided more than 82 million euros ( million) in aid through a special European Union fund.
Amid renewed calls for Western countries to supply warplanes to Ukraine, Slovakia is considering handing over 10 of its 11 Soviet MiG-29 fighter jets to Kyiv, with the last one on display in a Slovak museum, said Defense Minister Nad.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky directly requested these planes from Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger during the European Council meeting in Brussels last month.
If Slovakia agrees, it will become the first NATO member state to take such a step.
Bratislava had to retire its MiG-29 fighter jets last summer due to a lack of spare parts and maintenance experts after Russian technicians left. However, the Ukrainian Air Force, which uses MiG-29s, will be happy to receive them.
"We will never use MiG-29 fighters again," Nad said, adding: "They have no real value for us. If we give them to Ukraine, they can help save many lives."
A final decision is expected within days or weeks.
Since Slovakia retired its MiG-29s, NATO allies Poland and the Czech Republic have been guarding Slovak airspace, with Hungary preparing to join them later this year.
Bratislava has signed a deal to buy 14 US F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jets, but the start of deliveries has been delayed by two years to early 2024.
Nad noted that his country has responded to Ukraine's arms needs, despite the ongoing political crisis that saw the Slovak government ousted in a no-confidence vote in December.
"Ukraine's ability to defend itself against Russian aggression fully meets our national and state interests in the field of security and defense," the minister said.
However, not everyone in Slovakia thinks this way.
President Zuzana Caputova has asked the government to continue to rule, but with limited powers, until early elections are held in September, which the opposition has every chance of winning.
Among its leaders is former populist prime minister Robert Fico, who opposes military aid to Ukraine and EU sanctions against Russia and says the Slovak government does not have the authority to send fighter jets to Kyiv.
The government is awaiting a legal opinion on the matter.
However, Nad told the AP that the MiG-29 handover scheme would be "really mutually beneficial".
"From this point of view, I really cannot imagine a reasonable person who would not want to help Ukraine (to save) the lives of many people, while at the same time strengthening our defense," the minister added.
"We will support Ukraine as much as necessary": "unplanned" meeting of Blinken and Lavrov
The United States will support Ukraine "as long as necessary." This is what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in New Delhi, according to a high-ranking Reuters source from the State Department.
This is the first (known) direct contact between the two since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year. A meeting was scheduled for that date in Paris, but it was canceled after Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to send his country's armed forces to Ukraine. The two also talked on July 29 last year, but by phone, about exchanging prisoners.
The conversation was "unscheduled" and short - about 10 minutes - and was not driven by the intention of full-fledged bilateral negotiations with the Russian counterpart, according to a CNN source, also from the State Department.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also confirmed the meeting, while also denying that "negotiations, meetings, etc." took place, following journalistic questions about whether the two top diplomats actually spoke and whether they discussed the war in Ukraine. "Blinken requested contact with Lavrov," she added. As a result, the two "communicated".
During that conversation, according to Reuters, Blinken called on Lavrov for Russia to return to the New START nuclear arms control treaty, participation in which Moscow suspended last week with a speech by Putin.
At the G20 meeting - hosted by India this year - the US and European partners urged other forum participants to keep pressure on Moscow.
She, for her part, called the agenda of the meeting a "farce". "We must continue to call on Russia to stop its war of aggression and withdraw from Ukraine for the sake of international peace and economic stability," Blinken said in an address after that meeting.
Germany, France and the Netherlands backed his positions: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said: "Unfortunately, one member of the G20 is preventing all the other 19 from focusing their efforts on these topics for which the G20 was created."
Host India refuses to directly blame Russia, from which it has increased its oil supplies.
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