Ukraine Latest: Zelensky says giving up Bakhmut would give Russia an ‘open road’

A Ukrainian infantryman with the 28th Brigade takes cover in a partially dug trench along the frontline facing Russian troops that were 250 metres away on 5 March 2023 outside of Bakhmut, Ukraine. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who ordered his military commanders on Monday to summon more forces to defend Bakhmut, said in an interview that giving up the besieged city would give Russia an 'open road' to capture cities in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said taking the eastern city of Bakhmut would let Kremlin forces push further into Ukraine’s defences, vowing to continue a months-long siege that’s shown limited results so far. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered his military commander on Monday to summon more forces to defend Bakhmut. Fewer than 4,000 civilians remain there, including 38 children, compared with a total population of around 70,000 before the invasion, according to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

Key developments

Ukraine to enforce evacuating children from war zone  

Ukraine’s government approved a mechanism to allow local authorities to begin the compulsory evacuation of children from areas of active fighting.

Children must be accompanied by at least one parent or legal representative. Parents won’t be allowed to prevent children from being moved out once evacuation officially begins, the ministry in charge of reintegrating occupied territories said.

Kazakhstan struggles to find crude to pipe to Europe 

Germany is supposed to take delivery of a total of 40,000 tonnes of piped Kazakh oil this quarter, according to KazTransOil, the state oil pipeline operator. That’s down by almost 90% from what was originally planned.

Kazakhstan’s producers are struggling to find spare barrels that would help European firms to wean themselves off Russian supply, people with knowledge of the matter said. On top of that, they are also wary of using the Druzhba link because they can earn better returns by using other export routes from the landlocked central Asian nation, they said.

Ukraine, Russia swap hundreds of prisoners 

Ukraine and Russia conducted a prisoner swap in which Kyiv brought home 130 of its troops and Russian 90.

Zelensky’s Chief of Staff, Andriy Yermak, said the Ukrainian contingent included soldiers captured in the battles of Mariupol, Bakhmut and Soledar, and that most had “serious injuries”. Russia’s Defence Ministry said the 90 prisoners were returned on Wednesday, the Interfax news service reported.




Hungary is training Ukrainians despite opposition to war

The Defence Ministry said it was training Ukrainian “military medical specialists for humanitarian purposes” in Hungary, according to news site

The EU and Nato member has stood alone among the blocs’ eastern states in refusing to give military aid to Ukraine, and it barred the direct transfer of weapon shipments to its eastern neighbour.

Poland ready to set up Leopard maintenance hub 

Poland is ready to set up a maintenance hub for Leopard tanks transferred to Ukraine, Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday.

Blaszczak expects his German counterpart Boris Pistorius to convince the country’s industry to deliver spare parts for older-type Leopard tanks that Poland has committed to deliver to Ukraine.

“The main problem is the lack of spare parts,” Blaszczak said. “I hope for a breakthrough.” He added that Poland would deliver 10 more Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine this week after handing over four last month.

EU to ask EIB to help boost Europe’s defence industry

The EU will ask its lending arm, the European Investment Bank (EIB), to help finance the ramp-up of Europe’s defence industry as it seeks to ensure sufficient stocks of weapons for Ukraine and its member states.

“We must mobilise private funds, in particular from the EIB and the banks,” Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told reporters. “It is essential that the financial system contribute to the effort needed to prepare our industry to meet the challenges of our security.”

Putin praises bank chief Gref  

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Sberbank Chief Executive Officer Herman Gref in their first publicly disclosed meeting since the invasion of Ukraine. “Sber has not only gotten through this difficult period, but practically fully restored its operations and is making a profit,” Putin said in a televised meeting.

Gref touted the bank’s home-grown software developers, who were able to replace imported products cut off by sanctions, and what he called an “unprecedented cost-cutting programme” since the start of the war. A Putin ally since the 1990s, Gref has long been thought of as one of the relative liberals among his entourage, many of whom were privately sceptical of his decision to go to war.

Russian oil still being transferred off Spain 

A large amount of Russian oil continues to be transferred between tankers just a few miles off the coast of Spain. The cargo switching is taking place weeks after authorities there wrote to local firms reminding them that facilitating the activity risks breaching sanctions. 

Four Very Large Crude Carriers, or VLCCs, are now anchored off Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in north Africa, according to Vortexa and ship tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. Between them, they can hold about eight million barrels of oil.

Defending Nato’s eastern flank key — Germany

Protecting Nato’s eastern flank bordering Russia is more important now than at any time since the end of the Cold War and the security concerns of the Baltic states and nations like Poland are more than justified, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said during a visit to German troops serving in Lithuania.

Lithuania mulls over expanding troop capacity

Lithuania will look into expanding its military forces into a national infantry division of some 17,500 troops over the next decade, Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told reporters.

The Baltic nation’s intelligence assessment suggests that Russia will aim to restore and boost its military capabilities in its western regions in both the short and longer term, Anusauskas said.

Moldova flags ‘new destabilisation tactics’

Moldova’s security situation remains volatile as Moscow-backed groups are resorting to new methods and tactics to try to destabilise Ukraine’s neighbour, according to Interior Minister Ana Revenco.

The new tactics involve recruitment and training of “vulnerable citizens” who are then pushed to protest and undermine the police’s efforts to maintain safety, Revenco was quoted as saying in local media.

The tiny nation wedged between Ukraine and Romania has faced rising tensions after Russia invaded Ukraine, with President Maia Sandu accusing the Kremlin of planning to overthrow her pro-European government. Russia has denied any involvement in Moldova’s internal affairs.

Ukraine forces ‘stabilise Bakhmut perimeter’

Ukrainian forces probably stabilised their defensive perimeter at the weekend following previous Russian advances into the north of the town, according to the latest intelligence update from the UK Defence Ministry. 

“Public disagreements between the Wagner Group and Russian Ministry of Defence over the allocation of munitions highlight the difficulty in sustaining the high levels of personnel and ammunition required to advance with their current tactics,” the ministry said.




Energy minister details allied support 

Ukraine received 450 shipments of energy equipment from allies like the US, the European Union and Japan over the past year, according to Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko.

Supplies included more than 1,700 generators, about 1,000 transformers and high-voltage equipment for repairing power lines, Halushchenko said. “With equipment from our partners we restored power and heat supply to millions of Ukrainians, went through this extremely difficult winter and now prepare for the next heating season,” he added.

US, EU discussed disrupting Russian diamond trade  

US State Department and European Commission officials met diamond industry representatives to discuss Russia’s trade in the precious stones and the most effective ways to disrupt revenue from it, according to a statement

“Russia continues to earn billions of dollars from the diamond trade, and the discussion centred on the most effective and impactful ways to disrupt that revenue stream,” the State Department said.

Zelensky vows to hold Bakhmut

Zelensky said he asked his key military officers on Monday whether Ukraine should pull out of Bakhmut and they were unanimous in supporting its continued defence despite Russian successes in surrounding the besieged city on three sides.

It was a change of tone for the president, who last month said that “the enemy is gradually destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions, for reinforcement and defence” and that his forces wouldn’t hold the city “at any cost and with everyone dying”. DM


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