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Russia-Ukraine war live: Bakhmut offensive slowing, says US thinktank; EU leaders gather for summit | Ukraine

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Key events

An air alert is being declared across Ukraine.

The UK Ministry of Defence has issued its daily intelligence briefing on the situation in Ukraine. It writes:

Since the start of March 2023, heavy fighting has continued in parts of the Svatove-Kremina sector of the frontline in northern Luhansk oblast. Russia has partially regained control over the immediate approaches to Kremina town, which was under immediate Ukrainian threat earlier in the year.

In places, Russia has made gains of up to several kilometres. Russian commanders are likely trying to expand a security zone west from the defence lines they have prepared along higher ground, and integrate the natural obstacle of the Oskil River.

They likely seek to recapture Kupiansk, a logistics node.

Charlotte Graham-McLay

A former New Zealand soldier who drew an online following with his dispatches from the frontline of the Ukraine war has been killed in fighting there.

The death of Kane Te Tai, 38, was confirmed by New Zealand’s foreign ministry Thursday, citing Ukrainian government sources. Te Tai, who fought with the International Legion, is the third New Zealander known to have died in Ukraine.

For many in New Zealand, Te Tai was the face of the country’s unofficial involvement in Ukraine’s war. He fundraised for equipment and undertook news interviews before he left New Zealand in May 2022, and documented his friendships, battles and daily life on Instagram and Facebook.

A video he posted earlier this month captured a moment when he was unexpectedly reunited with a Ukrainian friend who had been held hostage for months by Russian troops, and whom Te Tai recognised when the man began to call out: “New Zealand! New Zealand!”

“My brother!” Te Tai replied.

Situation at Zaporizhzhia plant ‘remains perilous’

The UN nuclear agency’s chief said Wednesday that the situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant “remains perilous” following a Russian missile strike this month that disconnected the plant from the grid.

Europe’s largest nuclear power plant needs a reliable electricity supply to operate pumps that circulate water to cool reactors and pools holding nuclear fuel.

Since a Russian strike on March 9, the plant has relied on a single backup power line that remains “disconnected and under repair”, according to Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Nuclear safety at the ZNPP remains in a precarious state,” Grossi said in a statement on Wednesday.

The plant’s lack of access to the grid and necessary repair work on its last emergency power line could cause a complete loss of power, making it reliant on diesel generators for the seventh time since Russia captured it a year ago, Grossi said.

“I once again call for a commitment from all sides to secure nuclear safety and security protection at the plant.”

The statement continues:

The situation at the plant remains perilous. The IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhya (ISAMZ) team currently present at the plant was informed that restoration of the line had been planned for 5, 10 and then 13 March but had not been possible. The latest reconnection date is scheduled for 23 March.

EU leaders gather for summit

Six weeks after European leaders last gathered in Brussels, they’re meeting again for two days. The war in Ukraine is high on the agenda (though tensions between France and Germany over nuclear energy and combustion engines loom large) and UN secretary general, António Guterres, will be joining the summit for the first day.

Among the items on the agenda over the next two days are, according to the council:

  • Accountability of perpetrators

  • Further increasing collective pressure on Russia

  • The use of frozen assets for the reconstruction of Ukraine

  • Support to help meet Ukraine’s military and defence needs

  • Global food security

  • Address high energy prices

  • Reduce gas demand

  • Ensure security of supply

  • Phase out dependency on Russian fossil fuels

Wording on the summit points out that the EU has “made available” €67bn (US$73bn) to Ukraine since the start of the war. That’s equivalent to about 27% of Ukraine’s total GDP for 2021, before Russia invaded.

Bakhmut offensive slowing says US thinktank

A months-long ground assault on the eastern town of Bakhmut could be stalling in the face of fierce resistance, according to US, Ukrainian and British military experts.

Russian forces unleashed a wave of air strikes in the north and south of Ukraine as President Vladimir Putin bid farewell on Wednesday to Chinese leader Xi Jinping following a two day visit to Moscow by his fellow autocrat and “dear friend”.

Bakhmut is the site of Europe’s deadliest infantry battle since World War Two. The Institute for the Study of War, a US thinktank, said in its most recent update that the pace of Russian operations around Bakhmut “appears to be slowing amid Western reporting that Russian forces may be attempting to launch offensives in other directions.”

The update goes on to say:

Russian forces are currently increasing the tempo of their offensive operations around Avdiivka aiming to encircle the settlement, and it is possible that Russian forces are doing so at the expense of their operations around Bakhmut and the stalled offensive around Vuhledar.

British military intelligence believes Russia’s assault on the town could be running out of steam. There was still a danger, however, that the Ukrainian garrison in Bakhmut could be surrounded, Britain’s defence ministry said in its intelligence update on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s military General Staff agreed that Russia’s offensive potential in Bakhmut was declining.

Bakhmut has become a key objective for Moscow, which sees the town as a stepping stone toward completing its conquest of the eastern Donbas region.

Opening summary

Hello and welcome back to our continuing live coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine. This is Helen Sullivan taking you through the day’s news.

Our top story this morning: Russia’s months-long ground assault on the eastern town of Bakhmut could be stalling in the face of fierce resistance, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a US thinktank.

In its latest update, the ISW writes, “The tempo of Russian operations around Bakhmut appears to be slowing amid Western reporting that Russian forces may be attempting to launch offensives in other directions”.

And the European Council is meeting today in Brussels, where leaders will discuss the war and Europe’s continuing support for Ukraine. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will also take part in today’s meeting.

We’ll bring you the latest on these stories shortly. In the meantime, here are the key recent developments:

  • The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said China is watching “very carefully” to see how Washington and the world respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Speaking at the end of president Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, Blinken said that if Russia was allowed to attack Ukraine with impunity, it would “open a Pandora’s box” for would-be aggressors and lead to a “world of conflict”. He added that China has not yet crossed the line of providing lethal aid to Moscow.

  • Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia was a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace”, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said, as China’s president ended his three-day visit to Moscow. Wang Wenbin reiterated Beijing’s claims that it remained neutral in the Ukraine conflict and said China would “continue to play a constructive role in promoting a political settlement of the Ukrainian issue”.

  • Vladimir Putin has no immediate plans for peace in Ukraine, so the west needs to brace itself to supply lethal aid to Kyiv for a long time to come, Nato’s secretary general has warned in an interview with the Guardian. The fierce fighting, currently centred around Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, demonstrated Russia was willing “to just throw in thousands and thousands more troops, to take many casualties for minimal gains”, the head of Nato said.

  • At least one person was killed and 33 wounded by a twin Russian missile strike on two residential buildings in Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine’s east, according to officials. Footage from a security camera captured the moment the strike hit, causing an explosion and a large plume of smoke to rise from two nine-storey buildings. Residential areas “where ordinary people and children live are being fired at”, said the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

  • At least eight people were killed overnight in a drone attack on Rzhyshchiv in the Kyiv region, regional police chief Andrii Nebytov said. The strike is reported to have hit a dormitory building and a school. Suspilne, Ukraine’s state broadcaster, reported that one of the people who died was “an ambulance driver who came to the call”.

  • Russia’s foreign ministry has warned that Moscow will not leave “unanswered” a UK plan to supply Ukraine with tank shells made with depleted uranium. “This decision will not remain without serious consequences both for Russian-British bilateral relations and at the international level,” it said on Wednesday. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Britain’s decision took the situation to new and dangerous levels.

  • The UK foreign secretary has said there is no “nuclear escalation” in the country’s decision to supply Ukraine with shells made with depleted uranium. They are not nuclear munitions. They are purely conventional munitions,” James Cleverly said, a day after Vladimir Putin accused the west of “beginning to use weapons with a nuclear component”.

  • Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, has said the risk of a nuclear conflict is at its highest level in decades. Russia was committed to keeping the world “safe and free” from the threat of nuclear war, he said, but added later that business could not continue as usual, given that Moscow was now “in a de facto state of open conflict” with Washington.

  • Rebuilding Ukraine’s economy is now expected to cost $411bn, 2.6 times Ukraine’s expected 2022 gross domestic product, a new study by the World Bank, United Nations, European Commission and Ukraine found.

  • Sweden’s parliament has formally approved a bill to allow the country to join Nato. Sweden and its neighbour Finland applied to join Nato in May 2022, abandoning decades of non-alignment after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The process has been held up by Turkey, which along with Hungary has yet to ratify the memberships.

  • Zelenskiy made a surprise visit on Wednesday to Ukrainian troops near the frontline city of Bakhmut. During his visit, the president heard “reports on the operational situation and the course of hostilities on the frontline”, a statement from his office said. Zelenskiy, dressed in a dark sweatshirt and military khaki trousers, was seen handing out medals to soldiers he said were heroically defending their country’s sovereignty.

  • There is a possibility that the Russian assault on the town of Bakhmut is losing the limited momentum it had obtained, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said in its latest intelligence update. This could be happening because “some Russian MoD units have been reallocated to other sectors”, it said.

  • The Prince of Wales travelled to Warsaw as part of a surprise two-day trip to Poland to thank British and Polish troops for their efforts supporting Ukraine, as well as to learn more about how the country has cared for displaced Ukrainian refugees.

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The Groucho

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