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Live blog: Ukraine says Bakhmut fight ‘extremely tense,’ Russia closes in

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Ukraine said its troops were under mounting pressure in the battered frontline city of Bakhmut in the industrial east, a key prize for Russia after months of brutal combat.

As the fighting raged, Moscow said it shot down Ukrainian drones targeting civilian sites in Russian territory while another one crashed near the capital.

Aerial footage released Tuesday showed almost all buildings in Bakhmut in ruins and smoke rising over the city once known for its sparkling wine production and salt mines.

“The situation around Bakhmut is extremely tense,” said the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces Oleksandr Syrskyi, adding that Russia has dispatched its best-trained Wagner assault units to try to break through the defences.

Following are the latest updates:

1626 GMT – Russia and Belarus agree Russian gas price to stay at 2022 level until 2025

Russia and Belarus have agreed that Russia will continue to supply natural gas to Belarus at the 2022 price until the end of 2025, the Energy Ministry of Belarus said.

In 2022, Belarus, a close ally of Moscow, paid $128.50 per 1,000 cubic metres for Russian gas, well below the price paid by buyers of Russian gas in the European Union.

1112 GMT – Ukraine will join NATO but in ‘long- term’ – Stoltenberg

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance in the “long-term”, but stressed that the immediate issue is it remaining an independent nation in the face of Russia’s offensive. 

“NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member of our alliance, but at the same time that is a long-term perspective,” Stoltenberg told reporters during a visit to Finland’s capital Helsinki.

After Russia’s offensive began last February, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the US-led military alliance to grant his country a fast-track membership.

1008 GMT – Russia open to Ukraine talks, but won’t give up annexed regions

The Kremlin has repeated its position that Russia was open to negotiations to end the Ukraine conflict, but that new “territorial realities” could not be ignored.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia would never renounce its claims to four Ukrainian regions that Moscow declared it had annexed last year following referendums that Kiev and the West slammed as bogus and illegal.

Russia proclaimed it had annexed the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions last September in a grand ceremony in Moscow.

The regions were subsequently named as constituent subjects of the Russian Federation in a constitutional decree. Peskov said Russia was open to negotiations if Kiev accepted Moscow’s control over the regions.

0940 GMT – Japan adds Wagner Group, others on sanctions list against Russia

Japan has decided to widen its sanctions against Russia, including on the private militia Wagner Group, over Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

At least 143 new individuals and organisations linked to Russia were added to Tokyo’s list of sanctions, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Those sanctioned will face asset freezes, as well as bans on Japanese domestic firms exporting to Russia while Tokyo will target politicians, military officers, businesspeople and companies in Russia.

The move comes after Japan hosted a virtual G-7 summit last Friday commemorating the first anniversary of Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

0937 GMT – Ukrainian air defence systems target Russian weaponry: Commander

Ukraine’s air defence systems target Russian warplanes, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on a regular basis, said a Ukrainian army commander.

“This (air defence) system is actively used. I would like to point out that every day, every night, attacks (air and missile) on civilian settlements in Ukraine continue and the air alarm is sounding.

Now in its second year, the Russia-Ukraine war has so far killed more than 8,100 civilians, with nearly 13,500 more wounded, according to the latest UN figures.

0931 GMT – Russian court fines Wikipedia over ‘fake information’

The Wikimedia Foundation has been fined $27,000 (2 million roubles) in Russia over what authorities said was its failure to remove “fake information” about Russia’s actions in Ukraine from the website.

0840 GMT – Fire put out at Russian oil depot after drone seen overhead

Emergency services put out a fire at an oil depot in southern Russia overnight after a drone was spotted flying overhead, the RIA news agency has said. 

The fire in the Russian town of Tuapse was reported at 0230 local time and spread to an area of about 200 square metres before it was extinguished, a local official said.

“The oil tanks were not affected. There was no spill of oil products. No injuries,” said Sergei Boyko, who leads the local administration.

Moscow has reported sporadic incidents at oil and gas infrastructure in regions near Ukraine since the war started a year ago. Russian officials have often blamed Kiev for sending drones into Russian territory.

0823 GMT – German arms manufacturer to supply Ukraine with reconnaissance systems

Germany’s Rheinmetall has won an order in the double-digit million-euro range to supply Ukraine with automated reconnaissance systems, the industrial group said in a statement. 

Rheinmetall is cooperating with the Estonian company DefSecIntel to provide the SurveilSPIRE systems, which consist of mobile surveillance towers with day and night-capable camera equipment, autopiloted mini drones and a control system.

Delivery has already commenced, the company added.

0746 GMT – Blinken holds talks with Central Asian nations over Ukraine conflict

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Central Asia to meet officials from all five former Soviet republics following the first anniversary of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

Leaders in the region have been emboldened to stand up to Russia by their new-found leverage as Moscow looks to their markets and trade routes in a bid to circumvent Western sanctions.

Blinken will meet the foreign ministers of all five Central Asian states in Astana on Tuesday before travelling on to Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

US officials say the Biden administration has stepped up engagement with the region in an effort to demonstrate the benefits of US cooperation to countries facing economic fallout from the conflict.

0732 GMT – Ukraine’s northeastern front could decide new battle lines

Military officials have said the stakes are high at Ukraine’s northeastern front where a much-anticipated Russian offensive has already started and where fighting could determine the next phase of the conflict.

Gruelling artillery battles have stepped up in recent weeks in the vicinity of Kupiansk, a strategic town on the eastern edge of Kharkiv province by the banks of the Oskil River.

The Russian attacks are part of an intensifying push to capture the entire industrial heartland known as the Donbass region, which includes the Donetsk and the Luhansk provinces.

Triumph in Kupiansk could decide future lines of attack for both sides. If Russia succeeds in pushing Ukrainian forces west of the river, it would clear the path for a significant offensive farther south where the administrative borders of Luhansk and Donestk meet.

If the Ukrainian defence holds up, it could reveal Russian vulnerabilities and enable a counteroffensive.

0435 GMT – Ukraine intel chief sees no signs China plans to arm Russia

Ukraine’s head of military intelligence has brushed aside claims that China is considering furnishing arms to Russia, telling US media that he saw no “signs that such things are even being discussed”.

Senior US officials have said as recently as Sunday that they were “confident” China was considering providing lethal equipment to Moscow, with a diplomatic pressure campaign underway to discourage it from doing so.

Asked specifically about the US assessment in a lengthy interview with Voice of America published on Monday, Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said: “I am the head of intelligence and I rely, with all due respect, not on the opinions of individual people, but only on facts. I do not see such facts.”

As to where Russia could still procure arms, Budanov said that apart from unconfirmed reports of shipments from North Korea, “almost the only country that actually transfers more or less serious weapons is Iran”.

0010 GMT – Bakhmut fight gets ‘more and more complicated’ – Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that the situation around the frontline hotspot of Bakhmut was getting increasingly difficult.

“The situation is getting more and more complicated,” Zelenskyy said in his evening address.

“The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions,” he said, calling Ukrainian soldiers fighting for Bakhmut “real heroes.”

The fierce fighting for the industrial city of Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk has been the longest-running battle of Russia’s year-long offensive.

Zelenskyy has said Ukrainians will fight for Bakhmut for as long as they can.

0005 GMT – Russia will not resume nuclear talks until Washington listens to Moscow

Russia will not resume participation in the START nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States until Washington listens to Moscow’s position, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in remarks published on Tuesday.

President Vladimir Putin last week delivered a warning to the West over the war in Ukraine and announced Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the latest START treaty, after accusing the West of being directly involved in attempts to strike its strategic air bases.

Peskov told the daily Izvestia in an interview that the “attitude of the collective West”, led by the United States needs to change towards Moscow.

“The security of one country cannot be ensured at the expense of the security of another,” Peskov said.

He also said that NATO by arming Ukraine “acts as a single bloc no longer as our conditional opponents, but as enemies”.

0003 GMT – Ukraine war, US-China tensions to dominate G20 foreign ministers meet

Foreign ministers from around the world meet in New Delhi this week in the shadow of Russia-Ukraine war and spiralling US-China tensions, with host India hoping that issues like climate crisis and debt of developing countries are not overlooked.

The March 1-2 meeting of the G20 foreign ministers will be held days after a meeting of finance chiefs of the bloc in Bengaluru, where they wrangled over condemning Russia for the war, failed to reach a consensus on a joint statement and settled instead for a summary document.

The outcome was similar to a G20 summit meeting in Bali last November, when host Indonesia also issued a final declaration acknowledging differences.

Last July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov walked out of a G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, also in Bali, after the West strongly denounced the war.

The New Delhi meeting will be attended by Lavrov, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Britain’s James Cleverly, while China is expected to send its foreign minister, Qin Gang. In all, representatives of 40 countries, including non-G20 members invited by India, and multilateral organisations will attend.

For our live updates from Monday (February 27), click here.

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