Day 374 of the Invasion of Ukraine: US and Germany promised more Support for Kyiv
Day 374 of the invasion of Ukraine. Summary of key events in the last 24 hours:
- The Russian defense minister inspects the front line in Ukraine
- Rheinmetall wants to build a tank factory in Ukraine
- Ukraine wants 250,000 artillery shells per month from the EU
- ISW: Ukrainian forces prepare for controlled withdrawal from parts of Bakhmut
- Zelensky wants a special tribunal to punish Russia for the war
- The US and Germany promise continued support for Ukraine
- The US Attorney General makes a surprise visit to Ukraine
- Thousands demonstrate in Bratislava. They want peace talks for Ukraine
The Russian defense minister inspects the front line in Ukraine
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspected the front line in eastern Ukraine as fighting rages around the eastern city of Bakhmut. Russia's Defense Ministry said Shoigu "inspected a frontline command post" in the southern part of Donetsk region, without specifying the exact location or time. The ministry released a video showing Shoigu traveling in a helicopter, then talking to a soldier in front of damaged buildings. He is also shown handing out medals to Russian soldiers.
Russia is determined to capture Bakhmut as part of its broader goal of conquering the entire Donetsk region. But both Ukrainian and Russian forces have reported heavy losses in the battle for control of the city, whose symbolic value outweighs its military importance. Bakhmut is a ruined city once famous for its sparkling wine.
On Friday, the head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group said its forces had "practically surrounded" Bakhmut, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting since the invasion of Moscow last February. Yevgeny Prigozhin indicated in a video posted on Telegram that "there is only one path left" to be controlled. The 61-year-old leader said in recent weeks that his fighters had captured three villages north of Bakhmut - Jagidne, Berkhovka and Praskovievka. Ukraine has said it will defend "Fortress Bakhmut" as long as possible, but this week officials said the situation was difficult.
Rheinmetall wants to build a tank factory in Ukraine
The company "Rheinmetall" is negotiating with Kyiv to build a tank plant in Ukraine, said the head of the German defense concern, Armin Papperger, in an interview with the "Rheinische Post" newspaper.
Papperger said the plant could be built for about 200 million euros. According to him, the enterprise can produce up to 400 Panther tanks per year.
He described the negotiations with the Ukrainian government as "promising" and expressed expectation that a decision would be made on the issue "in the next two months."
According to him, Ukraine needs 600-800 tanks to win against Russia, and in order to collect this amount, it must quickly start production of new tanks. "Even if Germany hands over all 300 Leopard 2 tanks that the Bundeswehr has, it will be too few," he said.
As it stands, Rheinmetall is able to deliver about 250 tanks in connection with the war in Ukraine, and work is going full steam ahead, Papperger said. He explained that more than 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles have already been prepared, and by the end of the year their number will be about 100. According to him, out of 50 Leopard 2A4 tanks, about 30 are ready, and in addition, there are about 100 Leopard 1 tanks from older modifications, from which 88 machines can be made serviceable again. According to him, the war in Ukraine will continue "probably for years to come".
Ukraine wants 250,000 artillery shells per month from the EU
The authorities of Ukraine have turned to the European Union with a request to supply it with about 250,000 artillery shells per month to achieve successes on the battlefield, reports the British newspaper "The Financial Times", citing a letter from Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov to his European colleagues.
According to him, on average per month, the army of Ukraine uses about 110,000 155 mm projectiles, which is 25% of the number of those used by the Russian side. "If we were not limited by the number of artillery shells available, we could use the full combat set - 594 thousand shells per month. According to our estimates for the successful execution of combat missions, the minimum requirement is at least 60% of the full combat set, or 356.4 thousand shells per month," Reznikov wrote in the letter.
In this regard, the European Commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, in an interview with the newspaper, stated that the European defense industry must move to a "military economy" in order to "meet the needs of defense production". According to the publication, the issue of financing the increase in the production of armaments and military equipment may be discussed by the leaders of the EU countries at a summit in Brussels on March 23-24.
ISW: Ukrainian forces prepare for controlled withdrawal from parts of Bakhmut
Ukrainian forces appear to be preparing for a controlled withdrawal from parts of Bakhmut, experts from the US Institute for the Study of the Ukraine War (ISW) wrote in their daily analysis.
Since May 2022, Russian troops have been trying to capture Bakhmut, a town with a population of around 70,000 before the war, and are suffering huge losses in these attacks. Footage released on March 3 confirmed that Ukrainian forces destroyed two important bridges near Bakhmut - one over the Bakhmut River in the northeastern part of the city and one on the road to the village of Khromovo, west of Bakhmut, ISW reported.
The pre-emptive destruction of the bridges may be an indication that Ukrainian forces expect to prevent the Russians from advancing in the eastern part of Bakhmut and limit potential routes for the Russians from Bakhmut to the west.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Alexander Rodnyansky said on February 28 that Ukrainian troops could withdraw from positions in Bakhmut if necessary. He also noted that the area west of Bakhmut is fortified so that even if the Ukrainian armed forces withdraw from the city, the Russians will not be able to advance quickly.
If the Ukrainian military command considers it necessary to withdraw the troops, judging by the statements of the Ukrainian side, it will be a limited and controlled withdrawal of the military from the particularly difficult sectors in the eastern part of Bakhmut, experts believe.
Zelensky wants a special tribunal to punish Russia for the war
Fierce fighting continues in Ukraine for the city of Bakhmut, considered by Moscow to be key to establishing control over the entire Donetsk region. Meanwhile, the country hosted a "Unity for Justice" conference with the participation of high-ranking representatives of the countries of the European Union and the United States.
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, stated in his evening address that the country is striving to secure the greatest possible support for a tribunal against Russia's aggression.
"The responsibility of Russia and its leadership is personal! For aggression and terror against our state and people. And when there is their responsibility, justice will be restored," said Zelensky.
The United States intends to hold Russia accountable for "crimes committed during its unjust and unprovoked invasion of its sovereign neighbor," said US Attorney General and Justice Secretary Merrick Garland. He attended the "Unity for Justice" conference in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, where he arrived on an unannounced prior visit, BTA reported.
The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, also arrived on an extraordinary visit to Ukraine. "It's good to be back in Ukraine - because of these brave people who inspired the world," Metsola, who met with Verkhovna Rada Chairman Ruslan Stefanchuk, wrote on Twitter.
"Ukraine's future is in the European Union... The cooperation between the European Parliament and the Verkhovna Rada will only strengthen", the President of the EP also wrote.
Another package of military aid from the US
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States will provide Ukraine with a new military aid package worth 0 million. It will mainly include ammunition for the HIMARS missile systems and howitzers, as well as Bradley armored personnel carriers.
The United States and Germany are moving together on Ukraine and strengthening NATO. This was stated by US President Joe Biden during his meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House, Reuters reported.
Berlin's support for Kyiv has been full, Biden said. He called "historic" Germany's decisions to significantly increase defense spending, as well as the country's determination to give up Russian oil products.
"You have led your country to historic changes by increasing defense spending and diversifying/diversifying from Russian energy sources. I know this was not easy - it was very difficult for you. We worked together to deliver security systems to Ukraine, as well as ammunition, artillery, armored tanks and air defense systems," Biden said.
Scholz, for his part, indicated that it was very important to send a message that the allies would continue to support Ukraine.
"I am glad that our countries cooperate so well - the governments of the United States, Germany and Europe. The transatlantic partnership is at a high level these days, and it is mostly thanks to your leadership."
The battles for Bakhmut continue
Meanwhile, fierce fighting continues between Russian troops and Ukrainian defenders, particularly around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
The founder of the Wagner mercenary military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said that Bakhmut was effectively already surrounded, leaving only one escape route for Ukrainian troops.
The Ukrainian side claims that the city will continue to defend itself.
A Ukrainian intelligence unit using drones has been ordered to withdraw, its commander said, BTA reported.
In an interview with Bild, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov did not rule out the possibility that Bakhmut could fall into the hands of the Russians. But that would only mean that "they will achieve a small victory," he said.
Bakhmut belongs to Ukraine's second line of defense in Donbas, and the Ukrainians have inflicted heavy losses on Wagner units as well as other Russian forces.
But Ukrainian forces have also suffered heavy losses. The city, once a population of 74,000, is now largely in ruins. According to local authorities, around 5,000 civilians still live in Bakhmut.
The US and Germany promise continued support for Ukraine
US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed their commitment to support Ukraine, DPA reported.
The agency notes that the two, who are among Kyiv’s closest allies, discussed the war during a private meeting at the White House.
It was German Chancellor Scholz's second visit to the White House in the nearly 15 months since he took office. He was in Washington for the first time at the beginning of February last year, when the topic of Ukraine also played a central role.
By that time, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers had already gathered at the Ukrainian border. Two weeks later, on February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine.
Ukraine put up a skillful and persistent resistance against its much stronger neighbor. But as the war enters its second year, the U.S. and Europe face major problems related to the continued supply of weapons and ammunition, as well as what security guarantees can be given to Ukraine, which in the long run hopes to joined the EU and NATO.
There have also been questions about how Biden and Scholz will respond to calls from some quarters for the West to push for peace talks and an end to the bloodshed, and how to sanction China if it supplies arms to Russia. However, much of the topics in the hour-long meeting were discussed behind closed doors.
In a brief statement released after the talks, the White House said only that Biden and Scholz spoke about "continued efforts to provide security, humanitarian, economic and political assistance to Ukraine, and the importance of maintaining global solidarity with the people of Ukraine", as well as on other global issues.
Scholz has repeatedly said he believes his government should work together with the Biden administration when it comes to sending military aid to Ukraine.
After months of resisting calls from Kyiv and NATO allies, Berlin agreed earlier this year to send its Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
"I want to thank all of you for your strong and steady leadership. I mean it sincerely. It has changed the world," Biden told Scholz in the Oval Office of the White House before the doors closed and their private meeting began.
"You came in to provide critical military support, and you know, I can say that in addition to your military support, the moral support that you gave to the Ukrainians was total," Biden said.
The US president called the significant increase in Germany's defense spending and the country's determination to give up Russian oil products "historic" decisions.
Scholz's trip to Washington was billed as a quiet working visit. He came without journalists or a business delegation to accompany him. The leaders also did not hold a press conference after their meeting.
Joint support for Ukraine over the past year has been critical, Scholz said during a brief meeting with media representatives before the talks.
"It's really important that we acted together," he said. "At this point, I think it's very important to send a message that we're going to keep doing it for as long as it takes."
Scholz also emphasized how good he thinks the state of relations with the US is.
"I really appreciate very much the good cooperation between the two of us, between our governments," he said in English as he sat next to Biden.
Conflicting accounts have recently emerged from the White House and the chancellor's office about how the commitment to provide battle tanks to Ukraine was arrived at.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that Germany had made the delivery of American Bradley infantry fighting vehicles a condition of Berlin's promise to provide German Leopard tanks. The German government denied this.
Opposition forces in Germany suspect that these irritations may have prompted the visit.
The chairman of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Friedrich Merz told German media Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that "there was probably a problem of clarification" with the tanks.
There are "a whole series of controversies. Maybe they want to talk about those controversies," he said.
The US Attorney General makes a surprise visit to Ukraine
US Attorney General and Justice Secretary Merrick Garland made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Friday and vowed to bring "Russian war criminals" to justice.
"We are here in Ukraine today to speak clearly and with one voice: the perpetrators of these crimes will not get away with it," Garland said.
He visited the city of Lviv in western Ukraine at the invitation of his Ukrainian counterpart to take part in the "United for Justice" conference. In a speech to the audience, he commented that the United States is standing by Ukrainian war crimes investigators as they collect and catalog evidence from blast sites, including hospitals, residential buildings and schools, exhume mass graves and study human remains. Since the invasion began a year ago, Russia has committed atrocities on a scale greater than any conflict since World War II, he said. The United States signed an agreement with Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia and Romania "that will strengthen our efforts to bring Russian war criminals to justice," he said.
The visit, Garland's second to Ukraine since the conflict began in February 2022, was not announced in advance for security reasons. This happened almost two weeks after US President Joe Biden visited Ukraine and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky. The United States is helping Ukraine investigate war crimes, and Garland this week named war criminal Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia's Wagner mercenary force.
US Vice President Kamala Harris last month accused Russia of committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine, saying Moscow's forces had carried out "widespread and systematic" attacks on the country's civilian population.
Thousands demonstrate in Bratislava. They want peace talks for Ukraine
Thousands of demonstrators in Bratislava took part last night in rallies against the war in Ukraine, DPA reported.
The largest of them, organized by an unknown person under the title "March for Peace", is said to be supported by right-wing populist and pro-Russian circles.
Protesters called for peace talks instead of arms deliveries and marched from the official residence of President Zuzana Čaputova through downtown Bratislava to the US embassy in the Slovak capital.
In addition to the numerous Slovak flags, at least one Russian and one more Soviet flag were visible.
The slogans carried simple messages such as "We want peace", but slogans against arms supplies and Slovakia's NATO membership could also be seen.
In the central square outside the official presidential residence in Bratislava, demonstrators clashed with a smaller group waving Ukrainian flags and anti-Putin slogans.
In the square in front of the US embassy, some demonstrators also held American flags.
The Slovak police managed to separate the individual groups of demonstrators without violence.
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