Ukraine war: 'We conquered the winter terror' of Russian bombardment, says foreign minister
Ukraine says it has "conquered the winter terror", marked by intense Russian bombardments which plunged millions of people into the cold.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday that it was "cold and dark, but we were unbreakable."
Kulebo said he also considered that Europe had "won" because "it did not freeze without Russian gas" targeted by sanctions.
"Our partners have stood by our side and helped us," Kouleba noted, adding, "There is still a long way to go until final victory. But we already know how to win."
The Secretary of the Security and Defense Council, Oleksiï Danilov, for his part wished his fellow citizens a "happy first day of the Ukrainian spring". “So, did they manage to freeze us?” he quipped.
Meanwhile Russia says it neutralised ten Ukrainian drones sent to attack targets in occupied Crimea. This is the second day in a row that Moscow has reported a drone attack.
Ukraine forces may pull out of key eastern city
The Ukrainian military might decide to pull troops back from the key stronghold of Bakhmut, an adviser to Ukraine's president said Wednesday as Russia pursued a bloody, months-long offensive to capture the city.
“Our military is obviously going to weigh all of the options. So far, they’ve held the city, but if need be, they will strategically pull back," Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told CNN.
"We’re not going to sacrifice all of our people just for nothing.”
The battle for Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk province, has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance as defenders hold out against relentless shelling and Russian troops suffer heavy casualties in the campaign to take the city.
Rodnyansky noted that Russia was using the best troops of the Wagner Group to try to encircle the city. The private military company known for brutal tactics is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire with longtime links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin said Wednesday that he so far had seen no signs of a Ukrainian withdrawal from the city. He maintained that Kyiv has in fact been reinforcing its positions there.
“The Ukrainian army is deploying additional troops and is doing what it can to retain control of the city,” Prigozhin said. “Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are offering fierce resistance, and the fighting is getting increasingly bloody by day.”
Recent drone footage shows the scale of devastation in the city, while Zelenskyy has described it as “destroyed.”
Russia keeps door open on future talks about nuclear pact
Russia may continue to exchange information with the United States on issues related to their nuclear forces even after Moscow suspended its participation in the last remaining arms control pact between the two countries, a senior Russian diplomat said Wednesday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Russia has given the US Embassy formal notice about the New START treaty's suspension after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the decision into law on Tuesday.
Ryabkov noted that Russia and the US had confidential discussions on matters related to the pact in recent days. He said Moscow could remain open to such exchanges in the future.
“We will communicate and exchange information when necessary,” Ryabkov said in comments carried by Russian news agencies.
The Russian diplomat emphasised that Russia will not end the suspension “at least until our American counterparts show readiness to abandon their hostile policy toward Russia, primarily concerning the developments in Ukraine.”
Putin announced the halt in Moscow's participation in New START in his state-of-the-nation address last week. He argued that Moscow can’t accept US inspections of Russian nuclear sites envisaged by the pact when Washington and its NATO allies have openly declared Russia’s defeat in Ukraine as their goal.
China, Belarus presidents call for Ukraine cease-fire, talks
The presidents of China and Belarus joined Wednesday in urging a cease-fire and negotiations to bring about a political settlement to the Ukraine conflict.
The joint call came in a meeting in Beijing between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.
That amounted to an endorsement of a Chinese 12-point peace proposal issued Friday that calls for the territorial integrity of all countries to be respected. The proposal does not say what would happen to the regions Russia has occupied since the invasion or give details on how the peace process should proceed, and has failed to gain much support.
"The core of China's stance is to call for peace and encourage talks ... and for the legitimate security concerns of all countries to be respected," Xi was quoted as saying by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
In a clear reference to the US and its allies, he added, “Relevant countries should stop politicising and using the world economy as their tool, and take measures that truly advance a cease-fire and stop to war and resolve the crisis peacefully.”
Belarus “fully agrees with and supports China’s position and proposals on a political solution to the Ukraine crisis, which is of great significance to resolving the crisis,” CCTV quoted Lukashenko as saying.
China has long had a close relationship with Lukashenko, and following their talks, the two leaders oversaw the signing of a raft of cooperation agreements in areas ranging from agriculture to customs enforcement and sports.
Slovakia basks under NATO umbrella, sends Ukraine old arms
Former Soviet satellite Slovakia has been a NATO member since 2004, but the reality of belonging to the world’s biggest military alliance really kicked in after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago.
The small central European country now hosts thousands of NATO troops while allied aircraft patrol its skies, allowing Bratislava to consider becoming the first nation to send fighter jets to neighboring Ukraine — getting rid of its unwieldy Soviet-era planes at the same time.
Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad is grateful.
“I would say that the Slovak Republic is a more secure country in a less secure world,” Nad told the AP in an interview in Bratislava.
“We remember well what it was like to have occupiers on our territory,” he added, referring to the 1968 Soviet-led military invasion of former Czechoslovakia — from which Slovakia split peacefully in 1993, four years after the communist regime fell.
The country of 5.4 million hosts a battlegroup with troops from the United States, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, as NATO moved to reassure members on its eastern flank worried about a potential Russian threat.
“The message behind deploying all of those units is simple,” Czech Colonel Karel Navratil, the battlegroup commander, told the Associated Press. “Our task is deterrence ... to deter a potential aggressor from spreading its aggression to NATO member states.”
Similar units have been created in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. They complement another four deployed in 2017 in the three Baltic states and Poland, to expand NATO's presence from the Baltic to the Black Sea.