Monday, 20 March 2023 03:37

What to know after Day 389 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Putin makes surprise trip to occupied Mariupol

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied port city of Mariupol, his first trip to Ukrainian territory that Moscow illegally annexed in September and a show of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest on war crimes charges.

Putin arrived in Mariupol late Saturday after visiting Crimea, southwest of Mariupol, to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday. He was shown chatting with Mariupol residents and visiting an art school and a children’s center in Sevastopol, Crimea.

Mariupol became a worldwide symbol of resistance after outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian forces held out in a steel mill there for nearly three months before Moscow finally took control of it in May. Much of the city was pounded to rubble by Russian shelling.

Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which deepened his international isolation despite the unlikelihood of him facing trial anytime soon. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the authority of the ICC, has rejected its move as “legally null and void.”

The surprise trip also came ahead of a planned visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, expected to provide a major diplomatic boost to Putin in his confrontation with the West.

In an essay published Monday in the People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, Putin said: “We are grateful for the balanced line (of China) in connection with the events taking place in Ukraine, for understanding their background and true causes. We welcome China’s willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the crisis.”

China in February released a position paper calling for an end to fighting in Ukraine and for upholding all countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. It did not address how to resolve Russia’s illegal claim to have annexed four regions of Ukraine.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told “Fox News Sunday” that any call for a cease-fire in Ukraine coming out of the Putin-Xi meeting would be unacceptable to the U.S. because it would only “ratify Russian’s conquest to date,” and give Moscow “time to refit, retrain, re-man and try to plan for a renewed offensive.”

Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then drove himself around the city’s “memorial sites,” concert hall and coastline, Russian news reports said. The state Rossiya 24 channel on Sunday showed Putin chatting with locals outside what looked like a newly built residential complex, and being shown around one of the apartments.

Following his trip to Mariupol, Putin met with Russian military leaders and troops at a command post in Rostov-on-Don, a southern Russian city some 180 kilometers (about 112 miles) farther east, and conferred with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who is in charge of the Russian military operations in Ukraine. Peskov said.

Peskov said the trip had been unannounced, and that Putin intended to “inspect the work of the (command) post in its ordinary mode of operation.”

Speaking to the state RIA-Novosti agency, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin made clear that Russia was in Mariupol to stay. He said the government hoped to finish the reconstruction of its blasted downtown by the end of the year.

“People have started to return. When they saw that reconstruction is underway, people started actively returning,” Khusnullin told RIA.

Mykhailo Podolyak, chief of staff for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, heaped scorn on Putin’s trip to Mariupol.

“The criminal is always drawn to the crime scene,” he said. “While the countries of the civilized world are announcing the arrest of the ‘war director’ in the event of crossing the border, the organizer of the murders of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and mass graves.”

When Moscow fully captured the city in May, an estimated 100,000 people remained, out of a prewar population of 450,000. Many were trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. Relentless bombardment left rows of shattered or hollowed-out buildings.

Mariupol’s plight first came into international focus with a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital on March 9, 2022, less than two weeks after the invasion of Ukraine began. A week later, about 300 people were reported killed in the bombing of a theater being used as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence obtained by The Associated Press suggested the real death toll could be closer to 600.

A small group of Ukrainian fighters held out for 83 days in the sprawling Azovstal steel works in eastern Mariupol before surrendering, their dogged defense tying down Russian forces and coming to symbolize Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Moscow’s aggression.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal, and moved in September to officially claim four regions in Ukraine’s south and east as Russian territory, following referendums that Kyiv and the West described as a sham.

The ICC on Friday accused Putin of bearing personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. U.N. investigators also said there was evidence for the forced transfer of “hundreds” of Ukrainian children to Russia. According to Ukrainian government figures, over 16,000 children have been deported to Russian-controlled territories or Russia itself, many of them from Mariupol.

While the ICC’s move was welcomed by Kyiv, the chances of Putin facing trial are slim because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.

Ukrainian officials reported Sunday that at least three civilians had been killed and 19 wounded by Russian shelling in the previous 24 hours. The deaths were in the eastern Donetsk region, amid fierce battles for control of the city of Bakhmut, according to Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko on Ukrainian TV.

Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said in a Telegram update that a 51-year-old woman was “fighting for her life” after being hit by shrapnel as Russian troops fired on the border town of Dvorichna.

Top Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak said Ukrainian troops were holding the line near Bakhmut, a key target of a long, grinding Russian offensive, adding that the enemy’s plan to occupy the city “are now foundering.”

The spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern forces said Russian troops are “tactically unable to complete” Bakhmut’s capture.

“Yes, there are very active battles, (the Russians) continue to carry out several dozen attacks by inertia, but they suffer huge losses,” Serhii Cherevaty said on Ukrainian TV, adding that Ukrainian defenses are “bleeding the enemy, breaking his fighting spirit.”

Taking Bakhmut would give the Kremlin a battlefield victory after months of setbacks, and could pave the way for Russia to threaten other Ukrainian strongholds in the region, including Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

Russian forces shelled a house in Bilozerka, a suburb west of the southern city of Kherson, and a woman who was pulled from the rubble was hospitalized, according to the Kherson regional military administration, writing on Telegram.


Putin’s trip to Donbass was 'spontaneous’ – Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin's surprise visit to the Donbass region was largely “spontaneous” and effectively turned into a full-fledged “working trip,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov revealed on Sunday.

The overnight trip was the first time Putin has visited Donbass since it broke away from Ukraine in 2014. it was eventually incorporated into Russia following referendums last year.

During Putin's stay in the city of Mariupol, he met locals and visited flats in a newly constructed residential building. The city was the scene of intense fighting early in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and ended up being heavily damaged in the process.

“Initially, the plan was only to visit this residential complex, and, of course, neither meeting the citizens, nor paying them a visit [in their homes] was planned. It was all entirely spontaneous,” Peskov told reporters.

The visit turned into a “full-fledged working trip” for the president, Peskov continued, as Putin was briefed by Deputy PM Marat Khusnullin, who accompanied him during the visit, on the restoration process ongoing in the city. In particular, the Russian leader was told about “the development of the urban economy, roads, the restoration of destroyed buildings, how many people are working, how working conditions are provided, how building materials are delivered,” the spokesman explained.

After his Mariupol visit, Putin proceeded to the city of Rostov-on-Don, where he met with Russia’s top military brass at a command-and-control center in charge of the military operation in Ukraine.

The visit to the command post had not been planned in advance either, Peskov said, adding that the president’s arrival was not an issue given that the facility operates around the clock. 

“Neither the presidential administration, nor the Ministry of Defense planned it in advance,” the spokesman stated. During the trip, Putin “heard reports” from a number of top military commanders, including from the chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and also gave his own “assessments of the situation,” Peskov added.

** Russian forces hit 92 Ukrainian artillery units at firing positions, top brass reports

Russia’s armed forces struck 92 Ukrainian artillery units at firing positions in 114 areas over the past day during the special military operation in Ukraine, Defense Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov reported on Sunday.

"Russian operational/tactical and army aviation aircraft, missile troops and artillery struck 92 artillery units at firing positions, manpower and military hardware in 114 areas over the past day," he said.

Battles in Kupyansk direction

The western group of the Russian forces struck Ukrainian manpower and equipment in the Kupyansk area, eliminating up to 50 troops over the past day, Konashenkov said.

"In the Kupyansk direction, aircraft and artillery of the western battlegroup struck the Ukrainian army units in areas near the settlements of Dvurechnaya, Timkovka, Olshana in the Kharkov Region and Novoselovskoye in the Lugansk People’s Republic," the spokesman said.

The strikes eliminated the enemy manpower and military hardware, the general noted. "Up to 50 Ukrainian personnel, two armored vehicles and two cars were destroyed," Konashenkov reported.

Russian combat aircraft shot down a Ukrainian Air Force Mi-8 fighter jet near the city of Kupyansk in the Kharkov Region, he added.

Battles in Krasny Liman direction

Russian forces eliminated over 90 Ukrainian troops in the Krasny Liman area over the past day, Konashenkov said.

"In the Krasny Liman direction, artillery and heavy flamethrower systems of the battlegroup Center struck the enemy units," eliminating "over 90 Ukrainian personnel, three infantry fighting vehicles, three vehicles, one Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer, as well as D-20 and D-30 howitzers," the general specified.

Battles in Donetsk direction

The units of the southern group Russian forces eliminated more than 80 Ukrainian troops in the Donetsk area over the past day, Konashenkov reported.

"In the Donetsk direction, more than 80 Ukrainian personnel, three armored combat vehicles, four pickup trucks, three Grad multiple rocket launchers and one Msta-B howitzer were destroyed in the past 24 hours as a result of active operations by units of the southern battlegroup, air strikes and artillery fire," the spokesman said.

Battles in southern Donetsk, Zaporozhye directions

Russian forces destroyed over 50 Ukrainian troops in the southern Donetsk and Zaporozhye areas over the past day, Konashenkov reported.

"In the southern Donetsk and Zaporozhye directions, operational/tactical aircraft and artillery of the battlegroup East employed combined firepower to inflict damage on the Ukrainian army units near the settlements of Novomikhailovka, Ugledar, Prechistovka, Privolnoye in the Donetsk People’s Republic and Orekhov in the Zaporozhye Region," the spokesman said, adding that the enemy’s losses in those directions in the past 24 hours exceeded 50 Ukrainian personnel, three pickup trucks and one D-30 howitzer.

Battles in Kherson direction

Russian forces destroyed two hangars with military equipment of the 122th territorial defense brigade of the Ukrainian forces near the Otradokamenka in the Kherson Region, Konashenkov reported.

Moreover, up to 20 Ukrainian troops, three vehicles and two Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers were eliminated over the past day in the Kherson direction.

Russian air defenses intercept nine HIMARS, Olkha rockets, seven drones

Russian air defense forces intercepted nine HIMARS and Olkha rockets and downed seven drones of the Ukrainian forces over the past day, Konashenkov reported.

In all, the Russian Armed Forces have destroyed 402 Ukrainian combat aircraft, 222 helicopters, 3,464 unmanned aerial vehicles, 414 surface-to-air missile systems, 8,338 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 1,069 multiple launch rocket systems, 4,388 field artillery guns and mortars and 9,011 special military motor vehicles since the beginning of the special military operation in Ukraine, Konashenkov concluded.



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