Russia-Ukraine war live: Bakhmut ‘killing zone’ hampering Wagner as Russians push to take city, says UK

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Bakhmut ‘killing zone’ hampering Wagner advance, says UK MoD

Bakhmut has become a “killing zone” that is probably highly challenging for Russia’s Wagner mercenary forces trying to continue their assault westward, the UK Ministry of Defence has said.

Its latest intelligence update said that over the past four days, Wagner Group forces had taken control of most of eastern Bakhmut, while Ukrainian forces held its west and had demolished key bridges over the Bakhmutka River, “which now marks the front line”.

The ministry said:

With Ukrainian units able to fire from fortified buildings to the west, this area has become a killing zone, likely making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westwards.

However, the Ukrainian force and their supply lines to the west remain vulnerable to the continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south.

Key events

Afternoon summary

The time in Kyiv is 5.45pm. Here is a round-up of the news stories so far today:

  • Bakhmut has become a “killing zone” that is probably highly challenging for Russia’s Wagner mercenary forces trying to continue their assault westward, the UK Ministry of Defence has said. Its latest intelligence update said that over the past four days, Wagner group forces had taken control of most of eastern Bakhmut, while Ukrainian forces held its west and had demolished key bridges over the Bakhmutka river, “which now marks the frontline”.

  • Three civilians were killed in Russian shelling of Kherson in southern Ukraine on Saturday, and another died in Donetsk, regional officials said. Reuters reported the governor of Kherson oblast, Oleksandr Prokudin, as saying three people, including an elderly woman, had also been wounded. “Today the Russian occupiers have hit Kherson again, on Mykolayivsky road near a shop, debris from a shell killed three people,” he told Ukrainian TV.

  • Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, dismissed reports that a “pro-Ukrainian group” carried out a high-profile attack on the Nord Stream pipelines late last year. Speaking to former Portuguese minister Bruno Macaes in an interview with the New Statesman, Kuleba said “it is the first time that I’m hearing a story of a secret pro-Ukrainian or Ukrainian group that is able to conduct operations of that scale and sophistication.”

  • Canada has announced a ban on imports of Russian aluminium and steel products, with the aim of denying Moscow revenues to fund its war in Ukraine. The imports were worth almost C$250m (US$180m/£150m) in 2021, according to the latest government data.

  • Moscow has accused foreign countries of fomenting mass protests in Georgia, likening them to an attempted coup designed to sow tension on Russia’s borders. Agence France-Presse reported that Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said several days of demonstrations in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, reminded him of a Ukrainian uprising that ultimately brought down a Kremlin-friendly presidency in 2014.

  • The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met the Georgian president, Salome Zourabichvili on Friday, and they hailed Tbilisi’s dropping of a “foreign agents” bill that had triggered a political crisis in the country. “They welcomed the government’s recent decision to withdraw the two draft laws,” the White House said in a statement.

  • Iran has reached a deal to buy advanced Su-35 fighter planes from Russia, Iranian state media said on Saturday, expanding a relationship that has seen Iranian-built drones used in Russia’s war on Ukraine. “The Sukhoi-35 fighter planes are technically acceptable to Iran and Iran has finalised a contract for their purchase,” the broadcaster IRIB quoted Iran’s mission to the United Nations as saying in New York.

  • The UK government has written to Olympic sponsors urging them to pressure the International Olympic Committee over its proposal to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete at next year’s Paris Games, British media reported on Saturday. The IOC is facing a mounting backlash after setting out a pathway in January for competitors from Russia and its ally Belarus to earn Olympic slots through Asian qualifying and to compete as neutral athletes in Paris, Reuters reported.

  • Most of Kyiv’s power supply had been restored, Ukrainian officials said, after Russia’s latest missile and drone barrage targeting critical infrastructure on Thursday. Power supplies were fully restored in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region, private provider DTEK said, while about 60% of households in Kharkiv city that were knocked off grid were also back online, Associated Press quoted authorities as saying. Significant damage remained in the Zhytomyr and Kharkiv regions in Ukraine’s north-west and north-east.

  • Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, made an unannounced visit to Kyiv and met President Zelenskiy on Friday. They attended a service at St Michael’s Golden Dome cathedral in memory of Dmytro Kotsiubailo, a well-known Ukrainian military commander.

  • Thousands of people gathered in Kyiv to attend the funeral of Kotsiubailo. Nicknamed Da Vinci and hailed as a national hero and symbol of resistance, he was killed near Bakhmut on Tuesday, aged 27.

That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for today. My colleague Maya Yang will be along shortly to continue bringing you all the latest news from Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Russian shelling kills four civilians, Ukrainian officials say

Three civilians were killed in Russian shelling of Kherson in southern Ukraine on Saturday, and another died in Donetsk, regional officials said.

Reuters reported the governor of Kherson oblast, Oleksandr Prokudin, as saying three people, including an elderly woman, had also been wounded .

“Today the Russian occupiers have hit Kherson again, on Mykolayivsky road near a shop, debris from a shell killed three people,” he told Ukrainian TV.

Ukraine recaptured Kherson in November after nearly eight months of occupation by Russian forces who seized it soon after the start of their invasion. The area is now under almost constant bombardment from Russian forces on the opposite side of the Dnieper river.

The Donetsk regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said one person had been killed and at least three injured in the city of Kostyantynivka after several rounds of Russian shelling during the day.

Iran has reached a deal to buy advanced Su-35 fighter planes from Russia, Iranian state media said on Saturday, expanding a relationship that has seen Iranian-built drones used in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“The Sukhoi-35 fighter planes are technically acceptable to Iran and Iran has finalised a contract for their purchase,” the broadcaster IRIB quoted Iran’s mission to the United Nations as saying in New York.

The report did not carry any Russian confirmation of the deal, details of which were not disclosed. The mission said Iran had also inquired about buying military aircraft from several other, unnamed countries, IRIB reported.

Russian president Vladimir Putin met Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran last July, stressing closer ties in the face of Western pressure over the war in Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Iran has acknowledged sending drones to Russia but says they were sent before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Moscow denies that its forces use Iranian-built drones in Ukraine, although many have been shot down and recovered there.

Faisal Ali

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, dismissed reports that a “pro-Ukrainian group” carried out a high-profile attack on the Nord Stream pipelines late last year.

Speaking to former Portuguese minister Bruno Macaes in an interview with the New Statesman, Kuleba said “it is the first time that I’m hearing a story of a secret pro-Ukrainian or Ukrainian group that is able to conduct operations of that scale and sophistication.”

The New York Times reported on 7 March that a “pro-Ukrainian group carried out the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines,” citing anonymous US officials who reviewed confidential intelligence.

The report added:

US officials declined to disclose the nature of the intelligence, how it was obtained or any details of the strength of the evidence it contains. They have said that there are no firm conclusions about it.

More recently, German newspaper Die Zeit said the attack had been carried out by a team of five men and a woman using a yacht owned by two Ukrainians and registered in Poland.

Speculation over who caused the explosion has been rife since the pipelines were blown up.

Early on, Denmark and Sweden were clear that they believed it was an act of sabotage. Russia has accused the US and the UK. Seymour Hersh reported recently that the US blew up the pipes and Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries have blamed Russia.

Kuleba added that linking the attack to a pro-Ukraine group “causes a lot of damage as it casts a shadow on Ukraine”.

He also said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the attack was a false-flag operation to incriminate Ukraine. He said his government would wait until the results of investigations under way in several countries before reaching an official position on the issue.

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop a tank near the frontline city of Bakhmut on 10 March 2023, amid Russia’s military invasion Ukraine. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images

Russian forces have made progress in the frontline hotspot of Bakhmut, a key target of Moscow’s months-long campaign in eastern Ukraine that has resulted in many casualties, the Associated Press reported.

Their assault , however, will be difficult to sustain without further harsh losses, UK military officials said in an assessment on Saturday.

The Ministry of Defence said in the latest of its regular Twitter updates that units from the Kremlin-controlled paramilitary group Wagner had captured most of eastern Bakhmut, with a river flowing through the city centre now marking the frontline.

It would be “highly challenging” for Wagner forces to push ahead, it said, because Ukraine had destroyed key bridges over the river, and sniper fire from fortified buildings farther west had made the thin strip of open ground in the centre “a killing zone.”

At the same time, Ukrainian troops and supply lines in the mining city remain vulnerable to “continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south,” as Russian forces try to close in on them in a pincer movement, the ministry said.

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met the Georgian president, Salome Zourabichvili on Friday, and they hailed Tbilisi’s dropping of a “foreign agents” bill that had triggered a political crisis in the country.

“They welcomed the government’s recent decision to withdraw the two draft laws,” the White House said in a statement.

Zourabichvili, a pro-European who said she would veto the bill, and Sullivan also discussed the need for Russia to feel “the full economic costs of the sanctions, export controls, and other economic restrictions” over its war in Ukraine.

Julian Borger

Julian Borger

In case you missed it, the underwater bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipelines last September was carried out by a team of divers operating from a 15-metre chartered yacht called the Andromeda, according to a report.

Der Spiegel traces the Andromeda’s route around the Baltic from its home marina in Rostock on 6 September to the German island of Rügen and then to the Danish island of Christiansø, close to the site of the blasts on 26 September.

Experts have questioned whether the amount of explosives used in the sabotage attacks, estimated to be several hundred kilos, as well with the necessary breathing apparatus and other equipment could have been carried on such a small boat, raising the the possibility of another vessel was involved.

A resident of Bohorodychne crosses the Siversky Donets river at a destroyed bridge to retrieve bread from the other bank
A resident of Bohorodychne crosses the Siversky Donets river at a destroyed bridge to retrieve bread from the other bank. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images

Canada has announced a ban on imports of Russian aluminium and steel products, with the aim of denying Moscow revenues to fund its war in Ukraine.

The imports were worth almost C$250m (US$180m/£150m) in 2021, according to the latest government data.

Reuters reports the ban comes as a 200% tariff on Russian aluminium imports announced last month by the United States came into effect, and after the EU already blocked Russian steel products last year.

The Canadian deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, said on Friday:

Canada, and our partners, have already sanctioned the Russian central bank and capped the price of Russian oil and gas. And now we are ensuring [President Vladimir] Putin cannot pay for his war by selling aluminum and steel in Canada, in coordination with action taken by the United States today.

Chrystia Freeland
Chrystia Freeland. Photograph: Canadian Press/Rex/Shutterstock

The UK government has written to Olympic sponsors urging them to pressure the International Olympic Committee over its proposal to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete at next year’s Paris Games, British media reported on Saturday.

The IOC is facing a mounting backlash after setting out a pathway in January for competitors from Russia and its ally Belarus to earn Olympic slots through Asian qualifying and to compete as neutral athletes in Paris, Reuters reported.

The British culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, addressed the letter to the UK chief executives of 13 of the Olympics’ biggest sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Samsung and Visa, outlining the government’s concerns.

Frazer wrote:

We know sport and politics in Russia and Belarus are heavily intertwined, and we are determined that the regimes in Russia and Belarus must not be allowed to use sport for their propaganda purposes.

As long as our concerns and the substantial lack of clarity and concrete detail on a workable ‘neutrality’ model are not addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed back into competition.

Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes compete.

The Paris 2024 Olympic logo
The IOC is facing a mounting backlash over potential 2024 Olympic spots for Russian and Belarusian athletes. Photograph: Teresa Suárez/EPA

Bakhmut ‘killing zone’ hampering Wagner advance, says UK MoD

Bakhmut has become a “killing zone” that is probably highly challenging for Russia’s Wagner mercenary forces trying to continue their assault westward, the UK Ministry of Defence has said.

Its latest intelligence update said that over the past four days, Wagner Group forces had taken control of most of eastern Bakhmut, while Ukrainian forces held its west and had demolished key bridges over the Bakhmutka River, “which now marks the front line”.

The ministry said:

With Ukrainian units able to fire from fortified buildings to the west, this area has become a killing zone, likely making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westwards.

However, the Ukrainian force and their supply lines to the west remain vulnerable to the continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south.

Moscow has accused foreign countries of fomenting mass protests in Georgia, likening them to an attempted coup designed to sow tension on Russia’s borders.

Agence France-Presse reported that Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said several days of demonstrations in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, reminded him of a Ukrainian uprising that ultimately brought down a Kremlin-friendly presidency in 2014.

Hundreds of Georgians rallied for a fourth day outside parliament, keeping up their calls for a pro-European future, as legislators dropped the controversial “foreign agent” draft law that triggered violent clashes between police and protesters this week.

Protests outside Georgia’s parliament on Friday
Protests outside Georgia’s parliament on Friday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and recognised two separatist territories in the north of the country as independent, stationing military bases there after the war.

The demonstrations point to turmoil over the future of Georgia, which aims to join the EU and Nato, much to the frustration of Moscow.

Summary

Hello and welcome back to our live coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. This is Adam Fulton bringing you up to speed.

Fighting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut had “escalated”, said Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Malyar, with another push by Russian forces to break through Ukrainian defence lines that have largely held firm for the past six months.

Associated Press reported that just west of Bakhmut, shelling and missile strikes hit the Ukrainian-held city of Kostiantynivka on Friday. The regional prosecutor’s office said eight people were injured and more than a dozen homes damaged or destroyed.

AP journalists in the city saw at least four injured people taken to hospital. Police said Russian forces attacked the town with S-300 missiles and cluster munitions.

Ukrainian troops fire an artillery cannon at Russian positions near Bakhmut on Friday
Ukrainian troops fire an artillery cannon at Russian positions near Bakhmut on Friday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The attacks came as an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine had decided to continue fighting in Bakhmut because the battle was pinning down Russia’s best units and degrading them ahead of Ukraine’s planned spring counteroffensive.

Mykhailo Podolyak’s comments to Italy’s La Stampa newspaper were the latest sign of a emphasis by Kyiv this week on continuing to defend the city after months of bloody battle.

In other developments as it turns 9am in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv:

  • Most of Kyiv’s power supply had been restored, Ukrainian officials said, after Russia’s latest missile and drone barrage targeting critical infrastructure on Thursday. Power supplies were fully restored in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region, private provider DTEK said, while about 60% of households in Kharkiv city that were knocked off grid were also back online, Associated Press quoted authorities as saying. Significant damage remained in the Zhytomyr and Kharkiv regions in Ukraine’s north-west and north-east.

  • Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, made an unannounced visit to Kyiv and met President Zelenskiy on Friday. They attended a service at St Michael’s Golden Dome cathedral in memory of Dmytro Kotsiubailo, a well-known Ukrainian military commander.

  • Thousands of people gathered in Kyiv to attend the funeral of Kotsiubailo. Nicknamed Da Vinci and hailed as a national hero and symbol of resistance, he was killed near Bakhmut on Tuesday, aged 27.

Servicemen carry Dmytro Kotsiubailo’s coffin during his memorial service in Kyiv
Servicemen carry Dmytro Kotsiubailo’s coffin during his memorial service in Kyiv. Photograph: Pavlo Gonchar/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock
  • The underwater bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in September was carried out by a team of divers operating from a 15-metre chartered yacht called the Andromeda, according to a news report. The report in Der Spiegel traces the Andromeda’s route around the Baltic from its home marina in Rostock to the German island of Rügen and then to the Danish island of Christiansø, close to the site of the 26 September blasts. Questions have been raised about whether another vessel was involved.

  • The British prime minister has said the war in Ukraine will end at the negotiating table. Rishi Sunak said he would support Volodymyr Zelenskiy to be in the “best possible place to have those talks” and recommitted to providing Ukraine additional military support. Sunak’s comments marked a clear divide with his predecessor, Boris Johnson, in his stance on how the war against Russia will end.

  • Ukrainian officials have ordered a historically Russian-aligned wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox church to leave a monastery complex in Kyiv where it is based, the latest move against a denomination regarded with deep suspicion by the government.

  • The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has thanked Moscow for a “heroic” increase in ammunition production but said he was still worried about shortages for his fighters and the Russian army as a whole. Yevgeny Prigozhin also said on Friday that Wagner had opened recruitment centres in 42 Russian cities.

  • The Kremlin said it saw risks of possible “provocations” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two Russian-backed breakaway regions of Georgia, after days of protests in Georgia over a “foreign agents” bill. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow was watching the situation “with concern”. The Kremlin regime sometimes issues false warnings about “provocations” for its own propaganda purposes.

  • The newly installed president of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, barely 10 days after he assumed power. In his first interview with a foreign TV channel, Christodoulides told Greek state broadcaster ERT that opposing Moscow’s self-styled “special military operation” put his island on the “right side of history”.

  • The International Fencing Federation has decided to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in Olympic qualifying events, sparking outrage in Ukraine. Fencing became the first Olympic sport to reopen events to the aggressor and its ally, one year after their exclusion due to the war in Ukraine.

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