Russia claims to have gained ground in Ukraine
The Russian army said on Saturday it has carried out “offensive operations” in the Zaporizhia region of southern Ukraine, allowing it to take “advanced positions”.
“As a result of offensive operations, units of the Eastern Military District took up more favorable lines and positions,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement.
It gave no further details.
Fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region intensified on Friday, as Russian troops claimed to have captured a village in the region, just 50 kilometers from the local capital.
The area is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plants, and the fighting there is raising fears of potential catastrophe.
Yesterday, Ukraine’s energy minister said the situation at the factory was appalling due to the physical condition of the Ukrainian staff and the state of their equipment.
Chechen fighters in Ukraine: Euronews report
A report from Euronews has looked at the Chechen fighters shedding blood on both sides of the war in Ukraine.
Those fighting alongside Ukrainian troops include Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oldest and fiercest enemies, veterans of their homeland’s separatist wars, alongside radical Islamists who have fought in Syria.
Meanwhile, Russia has used Chechens loyal to the Kremlin to discipline and reportedly even execute dissenting soldiers, and to intimidate civilians in Ukraine.
Chechnya is a troubled part of southern Russia in the Caucus region. After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the predominantly Muslim population tried to break away and establish its own state. This led to two horrific wars in the 90s, which ended in Moscow and established control over Chechnya.
Chechens waging war for Russia in Ukraine today, experts say, are the ones who collaborated with Moscow to crush their own people’s uprising during the Second Chechen War from 1999 to 2009.
But Jean-Francois Ratelle, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, was skeptical of their significance on the battlefield, likening them to a disposable private army.
“These are not elite troops,” he said. “They were most likely used as a grunt force… It’s always easier for a Chechen to be killed in a war than for an ethnic Russian.”
“They were treated like cannon fodder for a while.”
Read the full report:
Kiev sour when staggering over tanks
Ukraine lamented the “indecisiveness” of its Western allies on Saturday after they rejected his requests for heavy tanks.
The hesitation will result in the deaths of more Ukrainians, a Ukrainian presidential adviser claimed.
“The indecisiveness of these days is killing even more of our fellow citizens,” tweeted Mykhailo Podoliak, urging Ukraine’s allies to “think faster.”
“You still help Ukraine with the necessary weapons and realize that there is no other option to end the war,” he pleaded.
Germany has been singled out in particular, following its decision not to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks, a position criticized by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as his country faces a renewed Russian offensive.
In a rare public critique, Baltic foreign ministers asked Berlin to “supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine now” on Saturday.
Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia claimed it was Germany’s “responsibility” as “Europe’s leading power”.
Zelenskyy said on Friday evening he regretted Germany’s cautious attitude and said he was convinced “there is no other solution” for its Western allies than to supply tanks to its army.
At a meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday, the approximately 50 countries represented disagreed on sending heavy tanks to Kiev, despite repeated requests for the heavy weapons.
Russia claims the heavy tanks would not change anything on the ground, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the West was perpetuating the “illusion” of a possible Ukrainian victory.
But many experts think they would be a major asset to Kiev in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is back on the offensive this fall after heavy setbacks.
US labels Wagner as a criminal organization
Washington on Saturday labeled the Russian paramilitary group Wagner an international criminal organization, denouncing abuses in Ukraine, the purchase of North Korean weapons and the mass recruitment of prisoners.
“Wagner is a criminal organization that commits massive atrocities and human rights violations,” John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, told reporters.
“The Wagner group currently has some 50,000 people deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 mercenaries and 40,000 prisoners,” he said, adding that its “recruitment methods” caused “reservations” in the Russian Defense Ministry.
The announcement could lead to sanctions against the mercenary army, which is also active in Africa.
Wagner is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a 61-year-old Russian businessman, who was once Putin’s chef. It has been very active in the fierce battle to take Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
“We will work tirelessly to identify, expose and deal with anyone who helps Wagner,” Kirby said.
Washington says the group is growing in power and is now competing with Russian troops.
“We have information from intelligence agencies that tensions between Wagner and the Defense Department are escalating,” he said.
“Wagner will become a center of power that competes with the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” said the US official, who claimed Prigozhin was “advancing” his own interests in Ukraine.
“Wagner makes military decisions based on what will win him favor … especially in terms of publicity,” he added.
The Kremlin has denied there are tensions between the Russian military and the paramilitary group, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling the allegations “manipulation”.
Founded in 2014, the Wagner Group has recruited thousands of prisoners to fight in Ukraine in exchange for reduced sentences.
Air defense exercises in Moscow
Russia announced on Saturday it had conducted air defense exercises around Moscow and said it would prepare for possible “air strikes” on its critical infrastructure.
In a press release, Russia’s Defense Ministry said the exercises were to “repel airstrikes against key military, industrial and administrative infrastructure”.
Social media posts on Friday said air defense systems had been installed in several places in the Russian capital, including on top of the country’s defense ministry.
Russian officials initially declined to comment on the reports, as weapons resembling a Pantsir-S1 mobile anti-aircraft system were spotted on the roof of a building in central Moscow, some 2 kilometers east of the Kremlin.
Earlier this week, reports said batteries for mobile anti-aircraft missiles had been seen near the vast forest park of Losiny Ostrov on Moscow’s northern border and at another building in the capital.
Since Russia sent troops to Ukraine nearly 11 months ago, it has been hit by several drone strikes or attempted attacks deep within its territory.
In December, a drone strike killed three people at a military airport some 600 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.
Explosive drones also hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Russia-annexed Crimea.
While the US and other NATO members have provided billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, Washington claims it will not send weapons that could be used to attack Russia.