Ukraine-Russia war: Wagner mercenary group 'badly damaged' in battle for Bakhmut
The head of Russia's Wagner Group has acknowledged that fighting in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has inflicted severe losses on his mercenary 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," Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio message.
He also claimed that if Wagner were able to achieve victory in Bakhmut it would be a "major turning point in the war and in the entire modern history".
If Wagner were to "perish in the meatgrinder of Bakhmut and take the Ukrainian army with it" it would give Russia space for a further offensive, he added. "That means we played our historic mission."
Russian officials say their forces are still capturing ground in street-by-street fighting inside Bakhmut, but have so far failed to encircle it and force the Ukrainians to withdraw, as had seemed likely weeks ago.
British military intelligence said on Wednesday the Ukrainians had successfully pushed the Russians back from one of the city's main supply routes.
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President Vladimir Putin conceded that sanctions imposed on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine could bring about "negative" consequences for the country, after insisting Moscow was adapting to the penalties.
The UN's atomic agency chief warned of "increasing" military activity around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and hoped Russia and Ukraine would agree on safety principles.
Ukraine has repelled dozens of attacks in Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has said.
We will be back tomorrow with all the latest updates on Ukraine.
Ukraine says no eviction 'by force' of Kyiv monks
Monks accused of maintaining links with Moscow will not be violently evicted from their historic monastery in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv said Wednesday.
The government announced it would terminate the lease allowing the monks to occupy part of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra for free on March 29, but said the eviction process could take weeks.
Under a light snowfall, hundreds of worshippers gathered in and outside the 11th-century golden-domed church to attend morning mass led by Metropolitan Pavlo.
"I want to assure you: the law is on our side. According to the law, to the constitution, they cannot evict us," he said.
"The case is in the hands of the courts... They don't have the right to kick out clerics... until a judicial decision is reached," he added.
Putin says sanctions could have 'negative' impact on Russia
President Vladimir Putin conceded Wednesday that sanctions imposed on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine could bring about "negative" consequences for the country, after insisting Moscow was adapting to the penalties.
"The sanctions imposed against the Russian economy in the medium term could really have a negative impact," Putin said in a televised meeting with the government.
Western capitals have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow after Putin launched his operation in Ukraine over a year ago.
Putin has repeatedly said that Russia is weathering the barrage of economic sanctions, which in particular targeted its oil and gas exports.
IAEA chief warns of 'increasing' military activity near Ukraine nuclear plant
The UN's atomic agency chief warned Wednesday of "increasing" military activity around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and hoped Russia and Ukraine would agree on safety principles.
"It is obvious that the military activity is increasing in this whole region," Rafael Grossi told AFP, adding that during his visit "the idea is to agree on certain principles, certain commitments, including not to attack the plant."
Spain to send six Leopard tanks to Ukraine after Easter
Spain will send six promised Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine after Easter to help the war-torn country fend off Russia's invasion, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said Wednesday.
Madrid announced in February it would send the German-made 2A4 Leopards to Ukraine after they underwent repairs.
The tanks have not been used in years and were in storage at a military base in the northeastern city of Zaragoza.
Robles said the Spanish army was testing the six tanks before delivering them to Ukraine after Easter Sunday on April 9.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced during a visit to Kyiv on February 23 that Spain could send an additional four Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
"These four supplementary tanks need to be repaired," Robles said, without indicating when they could be delivered to Ukraine.
Earlier this month 55 Ukrainian soldiers wrapped up a four-week training course in Spain on how to operate the Leopard tanks Western allies have promised Ukraine.
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Poland wants EU to use all tools to limit inflow of Ukrainian grain, says PM
Poland wants the European Union to use all tools at its disposal to limit the amont of Ukrainian grain entering the Polish market, the prime minister said on Wednesday.
"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.
Satellite imagery appears to confirm that Russia has pulled 1950s-era main battle tanks out of a storage site to reinforce major shortages on the front line
New satellite imagery appears to confirm that Russia has pulled 1950s-era main battle tanks out of a storage site to reinforce major shortages on the front line, Joe Barnes writes.
Rochan Consulting, the Czech-based independent military analysts, confirmed 29 T-55 tanks had been pulled out of the 1295th Central Tank Storage and Repair base in Arsenyev in Russia's far-east.
The latest satellite images were captured on March 17, meaning the tanks could have already been sent to be deployed on the frontline in Ukraine.
Separate analysis has confirmed the Kremlin's forces have lost some 1,900 tanks in the 13 months since the invasion of Ukraine was ordered.
As a result of the shortages, 70-year-old T-55 tanks that were retired by the Soviet Army in the 1980s have been brought out of storage.
Ukraine 'repels dozens of attacks' in Bakhmut
Ukraine has repelled dozens of attacks in Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has said.
"The enemy continues its assault on the city of Bakhmut. However, our defenders courageously hold the city, repel numerous enemy attacks," the General Staff said, adding that Ukrainian forces had fended off 57 Russian attacks on Bakhmut and other towns.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, warned that unless Ukraine wins in Bakhmut, Russia could begin building international support for a deal that could require Ukraine to make unacceptable compromises.
If Bakhmut fell to Russian forces, their president, Vladimir Putin, would “sell this victory to the West, to his society, to China, to Iran,” Mr Zelensky said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
“If he will feel some blood — smell that we are weak — he will push, push, push," Mr Zelensky said.
He also invited the leader of China, long aligned with Russia, to visit.
More than 220,000 Russian personnel dead and injured, according to latest US assessment
Sky News' Deborah Haynes has tweeted:
NEW: Latest US assessment for Russian losses in Ukraine puts the figure of Russian dead and injured at over 220,000 personnel, UK Defence Secretary @BWallaceMP says in a press briefing with his Swedish counterpart who is on a visit to London
— Deborah Haynes (@haynesdeborah) March 29, 2023
Kremlin says 'hybrid war' with West will last a 'long time'
The Kremlin said Wednesday that Russia's confrontation with the West would likely last "a long time", as Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine grinds on into its second year.
"If we talk about the war in a broad sense: the confrontation with Western countries, hybrid war... this will go on for a long time," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Zelensky invites Xi to visit Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has extended an invitation to Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
"We are ready to see him here," Zelenskiy told the news agency in an interview.
Xi has not talked to Zelenskiy since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February last year but China published a 12-point plan for "a political resolution of the Ukraine crisis" last month.
Xi discussed the conflict with his "dear friend", Russian President Vladimir Putin, while on a state visit to Moscow last week, although the talks did not show progress on how to end the war.
China's proposal includes a call for a de-escalation and eventual ceasefire in Ukraine.
Sweden summons Russia's ambassador over 'legitimate target' statement
Sweden's foreign ministry said on Wednesday it will summon Russia's Stockholm ambassador to complain about an "attempt at interference" with the Swedish Nato application process.
Sweden and Finland in 2022 both sought Nato membership shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and are hoping to complete the process this year.
The Russian ambassador in a statement on the embassy's web site said joining NATO made the Nordic countries "a legitimate target for Russian retaliatory measures, including those of a military nature".
A Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson told Reuters the ambassador would be summoned.
"The foreign ministry is summoning the Russian ambassador to protest this obvious attempt at interference," Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom separately told news agency TT.
Comment: China and Russia are locked in a death spiral
Before 1914, the world lived in the era of the Great Powers.
After 1945, we had the Cold War and the two superpowers. Then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, we had the unipolar era of Western hegemony – one that we are now told is coming to an end.
A quarter of the way into 2023, the phrase of the year so far seems to be “multi-polarity”.
Read more from Paul Morland here
Hungary's foreign minister holds energy talks with Russia's premier
Hungary's foreign minister held telephone talks with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak about gas and oil shipments as well as nuclear co-operation, the Hungarian minister said late on Tuesday.
In a statement, Peter Szijjarto said Novak had reassured him that despite international sanctions, the Russian party would be able to do maintenance work on the Turkstream pipeline.
"Thus Hungary's gas supply will continue without any disruptions," the statement added.
Under a 15-year deal signed in 2021, before the start of the war in neighbouring Ukraine, Hungary receives 4.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas per year from Russia mostly via Bulgaria and Serbia on the Turkstream pipeline.
The Turkstream gas pipeline will be stopped for maintenance from June 5 to 12, according to data on the website of Bulgarian gas transmission operator Bulgartransgaz.
IAEA chief to visit Ukraine nuclear plant
The UN atomic watchdog chief is expected on Wednesday to visit Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is currently held by Russian forces.
There are persistent fears about the safety of the nuclear plant - Europe's largest - which is located in the southern Zaporizhzhia region where there has been frequent shelling since Russian troops invaded.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and his delegation are expected to arrive Wednesday morning and leave by afternoon, according to the Russian news agency TASS, citing an official with Russia's nuclear operator Rosenergoatom.
This will be Grossi's second visit to Zaporizhzhia since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, and he plans to "assess first-hand the serious nuclear safety and security situation at the facility", according to the IAEA.
The agency has had a team of experts inside the plant since September 2022, but Grossi said the situation "is still precarious".
Latest MoD update
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine - 29 March 2023.
Find out more about Defence Intelligence's use of language: https://t.co/PaAb5bO1If
🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/Gv8rYaPnqw
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) March 29, 2023
Pentagon deals Ukrainians a new hand with Nato weapons playing cards
Twenty years ago, US forces were issued with playing cards bearing mugshots of Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants to aid in the manhunt for the Iraqi dictator, reports Roland Oliphant, our Senior Foreign Correspondent.
Now the Pentagon has dealt soldiers a new hand to help them with another problem - the dizzying array of Nato weaponry sent to Ukraine.
The new deck features 52 weapons systems including tanks, helicopters and rocket launchers, plus two jokers, reported The New York Times.
Read the full story here
Pictured: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky waves goodbye on a train traveling from the Sumy region to Kyiv
Russia starts exercises with Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles
Russia began exercises with the Yars intercontinental ballistic missile system and several thousand of 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.
Kyiv urges Russians not to adopt Ukraine's 'stolen' children
Iryna Vereshchuk, the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, urged Russians on Tuesday not to adopt children who she said were "stolen" in Ukraine during the war and deported to Russia.
The war that Russia has been waging on its neighbour for 13 months now has seen millions of people displaced, including families and children. The real number of children who have been forcefully deported to Russia is impossible to establish.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant earlier in March against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's commissioner for children's rights, accusing them of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.
Ms Vereshchuk said on the Telegram messaging app that orphans have been "stolen in Ukraine" and allegedly given up for adoption in Russia.
"I strongly recommend that Russian citizens do not adopt Ukrainian orphans who were illegally taken out of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine," Ms Vereshchuk, in charge of social issues, said.
"Once again I remind all Russian so-called 'adoptive parents' and 'guardians': sooner or later you will have to answer."
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