Putin visits Crimea
Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Crimea on the day of the ninth anniversary of the peninsula’s reunification Russia, according to a footage shown by TV broadcasters on Saturday.
According to Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the head of state is to take part in the opening of a significant cultural and historical site. Earlier, it was expected that Putin would join the event by video link.
On Friday, the president's schedule was also partly devoted to the situation on the peninsula. Putin held a meeting devoted to the socio-economic development of Crimea and Sevastopol.
Putin traditionally participates in festive events on March 18. He repeatedly attended gala concerts dedicated to this date at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, held special meetings with the public and visited Crimea personally.
Last time Putin visited the peninsula in July 2020. He inspected the Zaliv shipyard in the city of Kerch to take part in a keel-laying ceremony for several naval ships. In December 2022, he visited the Crimean Bridge, which was being repaired after a terrorist attack.
** Ukrainian troops using 19th-сentury arms to defend key city
Ukrainian forces defending the Donbass town of Artyomovsk, also known as Bakhmut, are relying on Victorian-era Maxim guns, the Telegraph reported on Friday. Despite receiving tens of billions of dollars worth of US and NATO aid, Kiev is reportedly struggling with shortages of arms and ammunition.
“I have seen Maxim machine guns in stationary positions many times,” a Ukrainian soldier told the British newspaper. “Despite their age, it is a rather formidable weapon. The main thing is not to forget to add some water.”
Invented by Hiram Stevens Maxim in 1884, the Maxim gun was the first fully automatic machine gun in the world. Firing a still-respectable 600 rounds per minute, the gun relies on a heavy water jacket around its barrel to prevent overheating. Sitting on iron wheels and weighing around 30 kilos before adding water or ammunition belts, it takes a crew of four people to operate.
Maxims were used by British colonial forces in Africa and by Imperial Russian forces in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. It was already considered obsolete by the First World War, with British forces using the lighter Vickers machine gun in its stead.
Sitting in Ukrainian armories since the country was a part of the Russian Empire, Maxims have been used on the frontline in Donbass since last year. While Ukrainian troops told the Telegraph that the Maxim is “a fairly effective weapon in capable hands,” some of Kiev’s servicemen have complained that they haven’t received newer gear.
“The Russians have artillery, armored vehicles, and their forces are five to six times greater than ours,” a sergeant near Severodonetsk told Radio France Internationale last July. “We only had machine guns and RPGs from 1986. A Degtyarov machine gun from 1943. And the Maxim machine gun from 1933.”
The US alone has sent Ukraine more than $37 billion worth of weapons and ammunition since Russia’s military operation began last February. With Western stockpiles dwindling, however, American advisers are instructing Ukrainian forces to conserve their ammo if they hope to mount a counteroffensive this spring.
Western military officials have also advised Zelensky against hanging on to Artyomovsk, which is nearly encircled by Russian forces at present. Kiev keeps casualty figures under wraps, but US officials believe that “upwards of 100,000 Ukrainian forces” have died since last February, with “many of these losses”taking place in the city, according to a Politico report earlier this week.
Although US officials have written off Artyomovsk as strategically insignificant, it is a vital logistics hub for the Ukrainian military. Control of the town would clear a path for Russian forces to push on towards Kramatorsk and Slavyansk, which sit along the last in a series of fortified lines built by Ukraine since the onset of its conflict with the Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014.
Ukraine still able to resupply troops in battered Bakhmut, says army
Ukrainian forces outside the battered eastern city of Bakhmut are managing to keep Russian units at bay so ammunition, food, equipment and medicines can be delivered to defenders, the army said on Saturday.
And in the latest claim to have inflicted heavy casualties, Kyiv said its troops had killed 193 Russians and injured 199 others during the course of fighting on Friday.
Russia has made the capture of Bakhmut a priority in its strategy to take control of Ukraine's eastern Donbas industrial region. The city has been largely destroyed in months of fighting, with Russia launching repeated assaults.
"We are managing to deliver the necessary munitions, food, gear and medicines to Bakhmut. We are also managing to take our wounded out of the city," military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty told the ICTV television channel.
He said Ukrainian scouts and counter-artillery fire were helping keep open some roads into the city. As well as inflicting heavy casualties, pro-Kyiv forces shot down two Russian drones and destroyed five enemy ammunition depots on Friday, he added.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims. Last Sunday President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian forces suffered more than 1,100 dead in less than a week of battles in and around Bakhmut.
** Ukraine Black Sea grain deal extended for at least 60 days
A deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain was renewed on Saturday for at least 60 days - half the intended period - after Russia warned any further extension beyond mid-May would depend on the removal of some Western sanctions.
The pact was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July and renewed for a further 120 days in November. The aim was to combat a global food crisis that was fueled in part by Russia's Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine and Black Sea blockade.
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The deal had been set to expire on Saturday.
The United Nations and Turkey said on Saturday that the deal had been extended, but did not specify for how long. Ukraine said it had been extended for 120 days. But Russia's cooperation is needed and Moscow only agreed to renew the pact for 60 days.
"The Black Sea Grain Initiative, alongside the Memorandum of Understanding on promoting Russian food products and fertilizers to the world markets, are critical for global food security, especially for developing countries," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
Russia and Ukraine are key global suppliers of food commodities and Russia is also a top exporter of fertilizer.
Ukraine's Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said Ukraine had supplied nearly 500,000 tonnes of wheat for U.N. aid programs, and insisted on Saturday that the Black Sea export pact had been extended for 120 days and was an opportunity to keep helping those in need and "save the world from hunger."
To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports last year, a three-year deal was also struck in July in which the United Nations agreed to help Russia with its food and fertilizer exports.
Western powers have imposed tough sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. While its food and fertilizer exports are not sanctioned, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance industries are a barrier to shipments.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Friday that the European Union, the United States and Britain now "have two months to exempt from their sanctions the entire chain of operations which accompany the Russian agricultural sector," if they want the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal to continue.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield responded that Washington had "gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate the clear carve-outs for food and fertilizers to governments and to the private sector."
In a letter to U.N. officials dated March 16, and posted on Twitter by a Russian diplomat on Saturday, Nebenzia spelled out what Moscow wanted resolved - allowing the Russian Agricultural Bank to return to the SWIFT banking system and allowing the supply to Russia of agricultural machinery and spare parts.
Nebenzia also said restrictions need to be lifted on insurance and access to ports for Russian ships and cargo, a pipeline that delivers Russian ammonia to a Ukrainian Black Sea port needs to be restarted, and the accounts and financial activities of Russian fertilizer companies should be unblocked.
The United Nations has said that while progress has been made on facilitating Russian agricultural exports, there were still impediments, particularly in relation to payment systems.
Dujarric said on Saturday that the United Nations was strongly committed to implementing both the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal and the pact with Moscow and urged "all sides to redouble their efforts to implement them fully."
Ukraine has so far exported nearly 25 million tonnes of mainly corn and wheat under the deal, according to the United Nations. The top primary destinations for shipments have been China, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands.