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Live blog: Ukraine’s Zelenskyy, military vow to keep defending Bakhmut

Tuesday, March 14, 2023 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military chiefs agreed to keep defending Bakhmut, which the country’s top general said was vital to the defence of the whole eastern front.

Zelenskiy’s office said the president, top government officials and military commanders had discussed the situation in the small eastern city, where Russian and Ukraine forces are taking heavy casualties.

“After considering the defensive operation in the Bakhmut direction, all … expressed a common position to continue holding and defending the city of Bakhmut,” it said in a statement.

General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said the defence of Bakhmut was of “paramount strategic importance”.

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1617 GMT – Turkish foreign minister, UN chief discuss Black Sea grain deal

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have discussed extending of grain deal.

According to diplomatic sources, Cavusoglu and Guterres discussed the Black Sea grain initiative, as well as the latest developments in Ukraine.

Last July, Türkiye, the UN, Russia, and Ukraine signed a deal in Istanbul to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports which were paused after the Russia-Ukraine war began in February 2022.

The deal, extended for 120 days in November 2022, will expire on Saturday.

1608 GMT – Netherlands to give Ukraine minesweepers, drone radars – Defence ministry

The Netherlands will give Ukraine two minesweepers, drone radars, and an M3 amphibious bridge-building system, Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in the Ukrainian city of Odessa.

Ollongren was speaking at a news conference with her Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov.

The drone radars and the M3 system will be acquired directly from the industry, a press statement said. The two minesweepers will be delivered to Ukraine in 2025 as the ships are intended to look for mines in the Black Sea after the war.

The Netherlands, together with Belgium and possibly other allies, will give Ukrainian crew training on how to use the minesweepers starting in the second half of 2023.

1545 GMT – Russian missile hits Ukrainian apartment building, killing 1

A Russian missile struck an apartment building in the centre of Kramatorsk, killing at least one person and wounding nine others in one of Ukraine’s major city strongholds in its eastern Donetsk region as it fights against Moscow’s invasion, officials have said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted a video showing gaping holes in the façade of the low-rise building that bore the brunt of the strike.

The Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office and regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko also reported on the attack, posting photos of the building with mounds of rubble in front of it. The impact damaged nine apartment blocks, a kindergarten, a local bank branch and two cars, Kyrylenko said.

1121 GMT – Russian parliament votes to censor criticism of mercenary groups

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted to approve an amendment that would punish those found guilty of discrediting “volunteer” groups fighting in Ukraine, extending a law that censors criticism of Russia’s armed forces.

The amendment is seen as a move to “protect” fighters working for the private Wagner Group, a mercenary force, which is leading Russia’s campaign for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

The bill needs to be approved by the parliament’s upper house before passing to President Vladimir Putin for final approval

0918 GMT – Kremlin says Russia does not recognise ICC jurisdiction

Russia does not recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the TASS news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

Peskov was asked about reports the ICC was expected to seek its first arrest warrants against Russian individuals in relation to the conflict in Ukraine shortly.

“We do not recognise this court, we do not recognise its jurisdiction,” TASS quoted Peskov as saying.

The prosecutor of the ICC is expected to ask a pre-trial judge to approve issuing warrants against several Russians for the abduction of children from Ukraine to Russia and the targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

1042 GMT – Ukraine grain deal ‘consultations’ continuing

The United Nations said that “consultations” were continuing after Russia agreed to extend a vital Ukraine grain export deal, but only for a further 60 days, instead of the usual 120.

“The United Nations will do everything possible to preserve the integrity of the agreement and ensure its continuity,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told reporters.

1030 GMT – Russian missile hits another Ukraine apartment block, 1 dead

A Russian missile struck an apartment building in the centre of Kramatorsk, killing at least one person and wounding three others in eastern Donetsk region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that six apartment buildings were damaged in the blast and rescue efforts were continuing.

He posted a video showing gaping holes in the facade of the low-rise building that bore the brunt of the strike.

The Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office and regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko also reported on the attack, posting photos of the building with mounds of rubble in front of it.

1000 GMT – Kremlin: No peaceful resolution in Ukraine without acknowledging ‘new realities’

The Kremlin said that a peaceful resolution in Ukraine was not possible without taking into account the “new realities” of the situation.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia’s position regarding an end to hostilities was “well known.” Moscow has repeatedly said that Ukraine would need to accept Russia’s claimed annexation – rejected as illegal by Kiev and the West – of four regions of Ukraine that it partly occupies. 

0916 GMT – Kremlin says Ukraine goals only possible through military force

The Kremlin has said Kiev’s position means Russia’s goals in Ukraine can only be achieved by military force, Russian state news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

Russia claims it is fighting in Ukraine to “liberate” Russian speakers in the eastern Donbas.

Ukraine and the West say this is a baseless pretext put forward to justify a war of aggression and Moscow’s attempts to seize swathes of Ukrainian land.

0753 GMT – Ukraine will stick to terms of previously signed 120-day grain export deal – Kiev official

Ukraine will stick to the terms of the previously signed agreement on a 120-day extension of the Black Sea grain export initiative, a senior Ukrainian government official said. 

“We will follow the agreement strictly,” the official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Russia’s TASS news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying that the deal that facilitates Ukrainian agricultural exports had been extended on the previous conditions.

0444 GMT – Russia: 60-day extension of wartime grain deal acceptable

Russia does not object to another extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative “but only for 60 days,” the deputy foreign minister said.

The deal was set to complete its second term on March 18.

Sergey Vershinin’s remarks on Monday came in a statement following a Russian delegation meeting with UN Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan and UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths. 

0300 GMT – Ukraine’s Zelenskyy vows to ‘destroy’ Russia in Bakhmut

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Ukraine’s future depended on the outcome of battles in key points in the east of the country.

“It is very tough in the east – very painful. We have to destroy the enemy’s military power. And we shall destroy it,” Zelenskyy said.

“Bilohorivka and Marinka, Avdiivka and Bakhmut, Vuhledar and Kamyanka – and other places where the kind of future we are to have is being decided. Where the future of all Ukrainians is being fought for.”

Bakhmut has become the main focus of Russia’s assault, with months of bloody infantry battles inflicting heavy losses on both sides. 

Russian forces led by the Wagner private army have captured the city’s east but so far failed to encircle it.

2104 GMT — US to extend humanitarian stay for Ukrainians who entered via Mexico 

President Joe Biden’s administration will allow Ukrainians who entered the United States last year at the Mexico border to renew their humanitarian status, giving them continued access to government benefits like health insurance and food stamps.

The extension is a victory for advocates who have urged the US administration to expand legal pathways for thousands of asylum seekers from a select group of countries who have been allowed to enter the country in recent years on a temporary emergency basis.

The US Department of Homeland Security said that about 25,000 Ukrainians who fled the conflict in Ukraine and sought refuge in the United States via Mexico in early 2022 can now extend their stay beyond the one-year permit they were initially granted. 

Many showed up at the US-Mexico border because they had few other avenues to reach the United States. 

1941 GMT — UN committed to ‘integrity’ of Black Sea grain deal: Guterres 

The United Nations has affirmed its commitment to the Türkiye-brokered Black Sea grain deal, saying its chief would do everything possible to preserve its “integrity” after Moscow floated renewing it for a shorter period.

“The UN Secretary-General (Antonio Guterres) has confirmed that the UN will do everything possible to preserve the integrity of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and ensure its continuity,” the UN said in a statement late on Monday after a meeting in Geneva on its renewal. 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin suggested at the talks renewing the deal for 60 days, or half the term of the previous extension.  

1846 GMT — Kiev’s entry into EU, NATO should not be seen as ‘charity’ or ‘payoff’: top diplomat 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said Kiev’s entry into the EU and NATO should not be seen as a “charity” or “payoff” but as something in the “best pragmatic interest of the European community.”

“The EU and NATO membership of Ukraine will guarantee long-term peace and stability. On the other hand, adding more ambiguity would be incredibly reckless. Half-baked solutions, like keeping Ukraine in the background or in the waiting room, would invariably result in new Russian aggression, which is not in Europe’s best interests,” Kuleba said during a speech at the Oxford-Ukraine Summit in the UK.

In his statement, Kuleba said it is not necessary to consider what Russia says because President Vladimir Putin is “done” and “laid out all of its cards on the desk,” noting that Ukraine must triumph despite this, to ensure that Moscow is not rewarded for “what it has done.”

For our live updates from Monday (March 13), click here.

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