Zelensky reinforces warning on besieged Bakhmut; Xi Jinping welcomes Belarus’s Lukashenko in Beijing

Zelensky reinforces warning on besieged Bakhmut; Xi Jinping welcomes Belarus’s Lukashenko in Beijing
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) pose for a handshake and exchange signed documents during their meeting in Beijing on 1 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Belarus President Press Service / Handout)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reinforced a warning on the ‘difficult’ situation in the eastern city of Bakhmut, as Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed Belarus’s leader for talks in Beijing.

‘Russia does not count people at all, sending them to constantly storm our positions — the intensity of fighting is only increasing,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an evening address as the military sent reinforcements to Bakhmut. The president has signalled that the besieged city may soon be impossible to defend.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko that warring parties must resolve the conflict “via political means” and drop what he called a “Cold War mindset” during the two leaders’ meeting in Beijing, which was closely watched for signs that Beijing is expanding coordination with Moscow and its supporters in their standoff with the West.

Key developments

Russian mobile internet slows with sanctions 

Russia’s mobile internet speed fell last month from a year earlier, as sanctions by the US and allies choked off technology imports. The average download speed outside of Moscow fell by 7% in February to 18.3 megabits per second as operators were forced to rely on equipment bought before the war began, Denis Kuskov, the head of Russian researcher TelecomDaily, said on Wednesday.

The global average download speed was 38 megabits per second in January, and more than 100 countries posted speeds greater than Russia’s regions, according to Speedtest Global Index data.

Russia says it’s still talking to US on nuclear weapons

Russia and the US are still discussing issues concerning the New Start nuclear weapons treaty via “closed channels”, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to Interfax.

He didn’t provide details of the contacts in recent days. Russia formally notified the US on 28 February that it was suspending participation in the strategic arms limitation treaty, as President Vladimir Putin announced last month, he said. Russia hasn’t said whether it will stop data exchanges mandated under that agreement, however.

Allies ensuring steady spare parts supply: Scholz

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said allies were liaising closely on how to ensure a sufficient supply of military spare parts and that there are enough repair capacities for weapons delivered to Kyiv. Germany and its allies were also looking for ways to boost ammunition production for delivered weapons as well as for those from stocks used in eastern Europe, he said.

“That will remain an ongoing task, because we have said that we will continue to support Ukraine for as long as necessary,” Scholz told reporters after talks in Berlin with Latvian counterpart Krisjanis Karins.




Kremlin critics seek relief for anti-war tycoons 

Russian critics of Putin have spent the past year pressing the US and its allies to impose sanctions on thousands of Kremlin officials and business tycoons. Now they want a clear way for those who come out against the war to get off the blacklist.

Exiled businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent years in a Russian prison after a conflict with Putin, wrote to the UK Foreign Office this week appealing for sanctions to be lifted from Oleg Tinkov, a self-made billionaire who publicly condemned Putin’s invasion and renounced his Russian citizenship. “I believe the decision to impose sanctions on him was wrong,” Khodorkovsky said in an interview, citing Tinkov’s repeated criticism of Putin’s government.

Ukraine supports a ‘permanent task’ — Germany  

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said his government considers support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion to be “an enduring, permanent task.

“Over the past 12 months, we have worked intensively at the international level to support Ukraine not only in political and military terms, but also in terms of its financial needs,” Lindner told legislators in the lower house of Parliament in Berlin. “Ukraine’s resilience must remain greater than the viciousness of Putin’s war,” he added.

Finnish legislators wrap up Nato entry paperwork 

Finland’s Parliament ratified Nato’s treaties as the Nordic nation prepares to join the defence alliance, seeking to put momentum back into the bloc’s enlargement.

Nine months after Finland submitted its application for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation simultaneously with neighbouring Sweden, legislators in Helsinki on Wednesday signed off on the paperwork, voting 184 in favour of ratification and seven against.

Xi welcomes Russia’s ally Lukashenko

Belarus “fully supports the initiative put forward by you,” Lukashenko told Xi in Beijing, according to state-run news agency Belta. He was referring to China’s proposals for international security, many of which were echoed in its ceasefire initiative for Ukraine released last week. That plan was quickly dismissed by Kyiv and its allies in the US and Europe.

“China’s stance on the Ukraine crisis has been consistent and clear,” Xi told Lukashenko.  “We must stick to the direction of resolving the issue via political means, abandon the Cold War mindset.”

Poland blames Russia for cyberattack

Poland’s top cybersecurity official blamed Russia for an attack that disrupted the work of a government tax website. A temporary distributed denial-of-service attack, or DDoS, knocked offline the portal early on Tuesday, according to Janusz Cieszynski, a government official in charge of cybersecurity.

“The Russians are responsible for yesterday’s attack, it must be made clear,“ Cieszynski told broadcaster Polsat News in an interview on Wednesday. “We have information that makes it very likely that this is the adversary.”

Russia to be ‘pragmatic’ over output cuts

Russia will take a “pragmatic approach” when deciding on potential cuts in oil output beyond March, according to First Deputy Energy Minister Pavel Sorokin.

This month, Russia plans to cut oil production by 500,000 barrels a day in retaliation for Western sanctions, including price caps on its crude and petroleum products. The reduction is equivalent to about 5% of the nation’s January output, which reached around 10.86 million barrels per day.

India pushes Russia, China on G20 consensus on war wording  

India is seeking to convince Moscow and Beijing to go along with a consensus on describing Russia’s war in Ukraine, similar to the one reached by leaders of the Group of 20 nations last year, a senior official with knowledge of the matter said.

Efforts were on to bridge differences ahead of the meeting of G20 foreign ministers starting later on Wednesday, the official said, asking not to be identified because the discussions were private.

Ukraine to send additional troops to Bakhmut 

The decision on reinforcements was taken by the top commander in charge of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, during his visit to the city at the end of last week, Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on television late on Tuesday.

Russia suffers significant troop losses in the area, even as its forces outnumber Ukraine’s, she said.  Zelensky has said previously that Ukrainian forces would not hold Bakhmut “at any cost and with everyone dying”.

In his nightly address, Zelensky said Ukraine was “preparing for the return of our warriors to actions for the liberation of our land” after he recounted details of a regular meeting earlier with his top military commanders on the situation across the whole of the front.



Russia toughens penalties for criticism of war

Russia is introducing stricter punishment for critics of its war in Ukraine, threatening up to 15 years in prison for spreading “fake” information or publicly discrediting participants in the invasion — including for the first time irregular volunteer forces.

The speaker of the lower house of Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said the new penalties should receive approval in the chamber on 14 March in a statement on his Telegram channel.

Under current legislation passed soon after last year’s invasion began, those convicted of spreading “fake” news about the Russian armed forces face up to 10 years in jail, or 15 years if their action has “grave consequences”.

Germany warns China on drone exports 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Chinese drone exports to Russia would violate international law. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has a special responsibility, Baerbock told public broadcaster ARD.

That means China “may not send drones to an aggressor, a state, a president, who leads a war of aggression which violates international law”, she said. “We are investigating that and make clear every day that such a support is not within the framework of international law.”

Transnistria calls up reservists for training 

Defence officials in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria called up reservists for three months of training starting on Wednesday, according to Russian state media.

The separatist region hosts Russian military units and Soviet-era ammunition depots. Moldovan President Maia Sandu last month called for “maximum vigilance” after she accused Russia of planning to destabilise the country and overthrow her government.

The announcement in Transnistria suggests participation in the drills is voluntary. The last time such training was conducted was in April. DM


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