March 4, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Sophie Tanno, Matt Meyer, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT) March 4, 2023
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8:59 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Ukrainian deputy commander: "Every hour in Bakhmut is like hell," but Ukraine has stabilized the front line

From Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

The front line in Bakhmut has been stabilized over the past few days by Ukrainian troops, despite intense and ongoing attacks by Russian forces, a deputy commander in the National Guard of Ukraine said Saturday.

According to the Svoboda battalion's Volodymyr Nazarenko, Russian forces have not crossed the Bakhmutka River, and the city center remains under control of Ukrainian forces.

“Every hour in Bakhmut is like hell. The enemy had successes in the north, northwest of Bakhmut a week ago. Ukrainian soldiers are fighting back. Over the past few days, the front line has been stabilized thanks to our hard work and efforts,” Nazarenko told Ukrainian broadcaster Kyiv24.  

Near the village of Ivanivske, southwest of Bakhmut, “the Kostiantynivka-Bakhmut road is under the control of Ukrainian forces. They are doing this with enormous efforts,” he said.

Russian forces lack ammunition and are resorting to “chaotic shelling” and are attempting to bomb supply lines. Moscow's troops, however, still have more ammunition than the Ukrainians, he added.

9:03 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Bakhmut is still controlled by Ukraine and there's been no mass withdrawal, military spokesperson says

From Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

Ukrainian soldiers drive towards frontline positions near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 4.
Ukrainian soldiers drive towards frontline positions near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 4. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Russia has not taken control of the eastern city of Bakhmut, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Armed Forces told CNN Saturday.

“The fighting in Bakhmut is more on the outskirts, with the city controlled by Ukrainian defense forces: the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Border Guard and the National Guard,” according to Serhiy Cherevatyi, the spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the armed forces.

Ukrainian troops are rotating positions in Bakhmut in controlled, planned rotations, he said in response to reports of the withdrawal of some units. 

“There is also no mass withdrawal of Ukrainian troops,” he said. 

So far on Saturday, he said there have been hostilities surrounding Bakhmut, in the villages of Vasiukivka and Dubovo-Vasylivka to the north of the city, and in the villages of Ivanivske and Bohdanivka to the west. 

“There were 21 enemy attacks with the use of various artillery systems and MLRS near Bakhmut alone, and 9 combat engagements. 131 attacks and 38 combat engagements took place on this front in total,” Cherevatyi said.

Over 150 Russian soldiers were killed and 239 were wounded, and three were taken prisoner, he added.

8:38 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Why is Bakhmut important for Russia?

From CNN's Rob Picheta

An empty street and buildings are seen damaged by a Russian military strike Bakhmut on Friday.
An empty street and buildings are seen damaged by a Russian military strike Bakhmut on Friday. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters)

Russian forces are continuing their efforts to encircle the eastern city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. The city sits toward the northeast of the Donetsk region, about 13 miles from Luhansk region, and has been a target for Putin's forces for some time, but why is the city so important for Russia?

Since last summer the city has been a stone's throw from the front lines, so its capture would represent a long sought-after success for Moscow's forces -- and bring some limited strategic value.

The city has important road connections to other parts of the Donetsk region; eastwards to the border with Luhansk, northwest to Sloviansk and southwest to Kostiantynivka. 

For several weeks, the routes into Bakhmut have gradually come under the control of Russian forces. Rather than drive directly toward the city center, Wagner groups sought to encircle the city in a wide arc from the north. In January, they claimed the nearby town of Soledar, and have since taken a string of villages and hamlets north of Bakhmut.

If the Russians can take the high ground to the west of the city, nearby industrial towns Kostiantynivka and Kramatorsk would be at the mercy of their artillery and even longer range mortars. And it is unclear where exactly Ukrainian forces would fall back to should they retreat from the city.

But the battle for Bakhmut has been costly for the Russians, which will come as some consolation to Kyiv.

1:01 p.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Russian defense minister pays rare visit to troops in Ukraine

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu awards service members deployed in Ukraine, in this handout image published March 4.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu awards service members deployed in Ukraine, in this handout image published March 4. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout/Reuters)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare visit to Russia’s forces deployed in Ukraine, the country’s defense ministry said on Saturday.

In a statement, the ministry said Shoigu “inspected the forward command post of one of the formations of the Vostok forces in the South Donetsk direction."

In a video from the ministry, Shoigu is seen handing out medals to Russian military personnel and inspecting damaged buildings with the Eastern Military District’s commander, Colonel-General Rustam Muradov. 

“Awards deserved, earned. You fight with dignity! There is still a lot of work ahead. I really hope that you will continue to faithfully serve our country,” Shoigu told the military.

Shoigu and other members of Russia's defence establishment have faced criticism from the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and military bloggers.

Prigozhin has since the start of the Ukraine war been openly taking credit for Wagner’s efforts to secure some territorial gains, particularly in the battles raging around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

His unexpected rise prompted speculation about possible infighting among Moscow's elite as Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine sputtered.

6:15 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Russian FM's false claim about Ukraine war draws laughter from crowd

From CNN's Sophie Tanno

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks in New Delhi on Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks in New Delhi on Friday. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov drew laughter from a crowd in India after he made a false claim about the war in Ukraine.

Lavrov had been pedaling the Kremlin's narrative of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, falsely stating that the invasion was actually launched against Russia.

"You know, the war that we are trying to stop and which was launched against us using the Ukrainian people..."

His words were drowned out by the sound of laughter coming from the audience of top diplomats who were gathered for a G20 meeting in New Delhi on Thursday.

Watch the full video clip here.

8:39 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Ukraine's army under “increasingly severe” pressure in Bakhmut, says UK Ministry of Defence

From CNN’s Kareem El Damanhoury

Ukraine's army is under “increasingly severe” pressure in Bakhmut, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war, the UK Ministry of Defence says.

According to the UK intelligence, Russian forces and Wagner troops have made further advances into the northern suburbs, making the Ukrainian-held section of the city vulnerable to Russian attacks on three sides.

Meanwhile Ukraine's military says numerous attacks in various areas of the eastern Donetsk region, including Bakhmut, have been repelled.

“Over the past day, our troops repelled numerous attacks in the areas of Vasiukivka, Dubovo-Vasylivka, Bohdanivka, Bakhmut and Ivanivske in the Donetsk region,” the General Staff said. “In the Bakhmut sector, the enemy continues attempts to encircle Bakhmut.”

On Friday, Russian forces blew up a vital supply bridge to Bakhmut linking the besieged city to a nearby village.

Russia has been trying to capture Bakhmut for months. Its military significance is limited, however a Russian victory would be a symbolic boost for the Kremlin after a series of costly setbacks.

5:00 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Biden say US and Germany worked in lockstep to support Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks alongside US President Joe Biden meets in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks alongside US President Joe Biden meets in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden said that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's support for Ukraine has "made a world of difference" during the war, as the two leaders met at the White House on Friday.

"You stepped up and provided critical military support and you know, I would argue that beyond your military support, the moral support you gave to Ukrainians has been profound. And you've driven historic changes at home — increase in defense spending and diversifying away from Russian energy sources — I know that has not been easy, very difficult for you," Biden said, noting they had moved in "lockstep" in supporting Kyiv.

As NATO allies, we're making the alliance stronger and more capable," he added.

Scholz said Germany will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

"This is a very, very important year because of the very dangerous threat to peace that comes from Russia invading Ukraine, and it's really important that we acted together, that we organized in lockstep, and that we made it feasible that we can give the necessary support to Ukraine during all this time," said Scholz, who added he felt the transatlantic partnership was in "very good shape."  

Germany and the US were in a standoff earlier this year over sending tanks to Ukraine, but both countries announced plans to send the vehicles after intense pressure on Berlin and prolonged diplomacy between Germany, the United States and other European allies.

4:04 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

China is still considering providing lethal aid to Russia, White House national security official says

From CNN's Sam Fossum

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre listens as National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Thursday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre listens as National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Thursday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

China could still take the escalatory step of providing lethal military aid to Russia, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Friday. 

"We don't believe they've taken it off the table," Kirby told CNN's Abby Phillip, while noting that the administration still doesn't "believe that they've made the decision to move forward."

On fighter jets for Ukraine: Kirby also said that F-16 fighter jets are not a "key part" of the agenda for US President Joe Biden's meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this afternoon, but the two leaders will speak extensively on what Ukraine will need this spring and summer for the tough fighting ahead. 

About US detainee in Russia: Asked about detained American Paul Whelan, Kirby said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken "absolutely" brought it up with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, despite Russian claims otherwise. 

"Paul Whelan needs to be home with his family and with his friends," Kirby said. "We're going to keep working to get him released and get him back home."

3:41 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Alexey Navalny's daughter calls on Putin to end war in Ukraine and to release her father

Dasha Navalnaya speaks to CNN on Friday.
Dasha Navalnaya speaks to CNN on Friday. (CNN)

Dasha Navalnaya, the daughter of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, on Friday shared a message for Russian President Vladimir Putin:

“I have a couple of things to say to him — that he should stop this incredibly unnecessary and terrible invasion of Ukraine, that he should release my father and all of Russia’s political prisoners, who are just fighting for a better democratic, more prosperous country. And that until those two primary goals among others are met, we will not stop fighting,” she told CNN's Erin Burnett.

Navalny, a Kremlin critic and activist, was sentenced to nine years in prison on fraud charges that he said were politically motivated.

Navalnaya said once her father is released from prison, “he will continue fighting until Russia is a country that’s able to have free and fair elections."

"That’s the main goal of the anti-corruption foundation, is for Russia to become a free state, to have open elections, to have freedom of press, freedom of speech, and just you know, to have the opportunity to become a part of the normal Western democratized community in the world,” she said.

Navalnaya, 21, said she has not seen her father in person in over a year.