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Live blog: Ukraine ‘survives most difficult winter’ amid Russian barrage

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Ukraine said it had survived a months-long winter onslaught of Russian strikes on water and energy infrastructure, as it marked the first day of spring on Wednesday.

But Kyiv was under intense pressure in the eastern town of Bakhmut, while Moscow said it had downed a “massive” barrage of Ukrainian drones launched at the Crimean peninsula, annexed by the Kremlin in 2014.

Since October, Russia has been pummelling key facilities in Ukraine with missiles and drones, disrupting millions of people’s water, heating and electricity supplies.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine had overcome “winter terror” brought against his country by Russian leader Vladimir Putin and hailed the first day of spring as another “major defeat” for the Kremlin.

“We survived the most difficult winter in our history. It was cold and dark, but we were unbreakable,” Kuleba said in a statement.

Following are the latest updates:

1726 GMT – Ukraine rejects Russian claims of receiving radioactive material

Ukraine has rejected Russian claims that it received radioactive material to stage a “nuclear provocation” against Moscow.

“Russia’s claim that Ukraine has received radiological material to stage a ‘provocation’ is fake news. Ukraine is strictly committed to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter.

He urged the public not to be “misled by Russian propaganda textbook,” noting that Russians “often accuse others of what they plan themselves.”

1306 GMT – China, Belarus presidents call for Ukraine cease-fire, talks

The presidents of China and Belarus have issued a joint statement 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 an earlier Chinese 12-point peace proposal 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.

1250 GMT – Half of Swiss favour allowing arms transfers to Ukraine: poll

One in two people in Switzerland favour relaxing the country’s military neutrality to allow the transfer of Swiss-made arms to Ukraine by third countries, according to a new poll.

The issue of Switzerland’s long tradition of neutrality has been under debate since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine just over a year ago.

While the wealthy Alpine country, which is not a member of the European Union, has followed the bloc’s lead on sanctions targeting Moscow, it has so far shown less flexibility on its strict military neutrality.

Despite pressure from Kiev and its allies, Switzerland has so far refused to allow countries that hold Swiss-made weaponry to re-export it to war-ravaged Ukraine.

To date, it has rejected explicit requests from Germany, Spain and Denmark, pointing to its War Materiel Act, which bars all re-export if the recipient country is in an international armed conflict.

1040 GMT – Russia accuses Ukraine of preparing ‘nuclear provocations’

Russia has accused Ukraine of preparing “nuclear provocations,” claiming radioactive material was delivered to the Ukrainian ports of Odessa and Chornomorsk.

“On February 16, containers with radioactive substances and English-language labelling were delivered from the territory of one of the European states to the port of Chornomorsk (Odessa region), bypassing customs inspection,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website, citing Ukrainian media.

“On February 19, similar containers containing the radioactive substance ‘Californium-252’ … actively used in checking the integrity of nuclear reactors of nuclear power plants, were delivered to the port of Odessa on one of the bulk carriers.”

According to the ministry, the radioactive monitoring system was disabled at the time of the cargo’s handling.

“As a result of a journalistic investigation, it was established that the supplier of this radioactive substance is the American company Frontier Technology Corp., engaged in the production of containers for radioactive isotopes, especially neutron radiation sources,” it said.

The ministry quoted Ukrainian bloggers as voicing concern over the possibility of delivery of components for ammunition modification and “even manufacturing a dirty bomb.”

1032 GMT – Lukashenko: Belarus ‘fully’ supports Beijing’s Ukraine plan

During a visit to China, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said that his country fully supports an initiative put forward by Beijing to achieve peace in Ukraine.

“Today’s meeting is taking place at a very difficult time, which calls for new, unorthodox approaches and responsible political decisions,” Lukashenko told China’s President Xi Jinping.

Belarus “fully supports the initiative on international security that you’ve put forward,” he added.

1007 GMT – Ukraine: Grain exports reached 5.2M tonnes in February

Ukrainian grain exports have reached 5.2 million tonnes in February, exceeding last year’s level of 5.05 million tonnes, agriculture ministry data showed.

Overall grain exports so far for the 2022/23 season were down almost 26 percent at 32.3 million tonnes, hit by a smaller harvest and logistical difficulties caused by the Russian offensive.

The volume so far in the July to June season included more than 11.3 million tonnes of wheat, 18.6 million tonnes of corn and about 2 million tonnes of barley.

After an almost six-month blockade caused by the Russian offensive on Ukraine, three Ukrainian Black Sea ports were unblocked at the end of July under a deal between Moscow and Kiev brokered by Türkiye and the United Nations.

0952 GMT – Ukraine ‘survived the most difficult winter in our history’

As Ukraine marked the first day of spring, Kiev has said that the country “survived” a months-long onslaught of Russian strikes on critical infrastructure throughout winter.

“On March 1, 2023, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin suffered his fifth major defeat since his full-scale invasion – Ukraine defeated his winter terror,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement.

“We survived the most difficult winter in our history. It was cold and dark, but we were unbreakable.”

0655 GMT – Russia-Ukraine conflict an important point of G20

The Russia-Ukraine conflict will be an important point of discussion when the foreign ministers from around the world meet during Thursday’s Group of 20 (G20) gathering in New Delhi, India’s foreign secretary has said.

Top diplomat Vinay Kwatra told reporters that it was equally important to focus on the impact of the Ukraine conflict on the world and the challenges it poses to developing countries.

0225 GMT – Blinken warns Central Asia of dangers from war in Ukraine

The Biden administration has pledged to support the independence of the five Central Asian nations, in a not-so-subtle warning to the former Soviet states that Russia’s value as a partner has been badly compromised by its year-old war against Ukraine.

In Kazakhstan for meetings with top Central Asian diplomats, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said no country, particularly those that have traditionally been in Moscow’s orbit, can afford to ignore the threats posed by Russian aggression to not only their territory but to the international rules-based order and the global economy.

In all of his discussions, Blinken stressed the importance of respect for “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.” The Central Asian states have hewed to a studied position of neutrality on Ukraine, neither supporting Russia’s offensive nor US and Western condemnations of the war.

2100 GMT – Intensity of fighting near Bakhmut ‘only increasing’: Zelenskyy

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the intensity of fighting was “only increasing” near the frontline city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which has seen months of heavy battles.

“The most difficult, as before, is Bakhmut … Russia does not count people at all, sending them to constantly assault our positions. The intensity of the fighting is only increasing,” Zelenskyy said in his latest address to the nation.

US does not see significant near-term Russian gains in Ukraine

The United States does not expect Russia to make significant territorial gains in Ukraine in the near term, a senior Pentagon official said, describing the front lines in the year-long war as a “grinding slog.”

“You may see small portions of territory change hands in the coming weeks and months. I do not think that there’s anything I see that suggests the Russians can sweep across Ukraine and make significant territorial gains anytime in the next year or so,” Colin Kahl, the under secretary of defence for policy, told members of the House of Representatives.

Kahl made the remarks during a hearing focused on oversight of the nearly $32 billion in military aid President Joe Biden’s administration has provided to Ukraine since Russia’s offensive a year ago, including drones, long-range artillery systems, and air defence capabilities.

For our live updates from Tuesday (February 28), click here.

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