March 7, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Jack Guy, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Mike Hayes and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023
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6:50 a.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Russian defense minister says victory in Bakhmut will lead to further advances

From CNN's Tim Lister and Anna Chernova

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says that capturing Bakhmut will allow Russian forces to advance further into Ukraine.

"This city is an important defense hub of Ukrainian troops in the Donbas," said Shoigu at a military conference in Moscow.

"Taking it under control will allow further offensive actions deep into the defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine."

Several settlements around Bakhmut had already been captured, he added.

Shoigu also accused the United States of having a strategy to "break Russia by force of arms." 

"Western countries are increasing the supply of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, expanding training programs for the personnel of the Ukrainian army," he said.

Even so, he said, such assistance was not leading to the success of Ukrainian forces. 

"On the contrary, there is a significant increase in losses among the personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," said Shoigu.

"In February alone, they increased by more than 40% compared to January and amounted to more than 11,000 troops." It is not possible to verify the figures given by Shoigu.

Some context: US and NATO officials have presented a different interpretation of events in Bakhmut than Shoigu.

On Monday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that should Russian forces take Bakhmut, it wouldn't constitute "an operational or strategic setback" for the Ukrainian military.

The city holds "more of a symbolic value," added Austin.

And NATO intelligence estimates that for every Ukrainian soldier killed defending Bakhmut, Russian forces have lost at least five, a NATO official told CNN on Monday.

5:42 a.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Estonian PM wins election landslide against far-right rival who campaigned against Ukraine aid

From CNN’s Teele Rebane

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas speaks during a news conference in Tallinn, Estonia, on March 6.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas speaks during a news conference in Tallinn, Estonia, on March 6. (Sergei Grits/AP)

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ Reform Party won a landslide victory in the country's general election on Sunday, seeing off a challenge from the far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) which proposed cutting back support for Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Kallas said her party will propose a coalition with the liberal Estonia 200 party and the Social Democrats.

The three parties have common views on security, environmental and cost of living issues.

While the Social Democrats serve in the current coalition government, Estonia 200 are newcomers who ran on a liberal platform focusing on education, security and innovation.

Coalition talks are likely to begin tomorrow.

Polls predicted a tight race up until election day, raising fears of a conservative government that would have been less supportive of the Ukrainian war effort.

Following her victory, Kallas said that her party’s strong win shows “that Estonians overwhelmingly value liberal values, security founded on EU and NATO, and firm support to Ukraine."

EKRE, which has accused the current government of “warmongering” and depleting the country’s military stockpiles with donations to Ukraine, was a popular choice among rural and older voters.

Estonia has been the biggest contributor of aid to Ukraine relative to the size of its economy, contributing over 1% of the country's GDP.

Kallas has led the call to increase international aid to help Ukraine fight against Russia.

3:42 a.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Ukraine says Russians sustained "significant losses" in dozens of attacks on Bakhmut

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian servicemen fire a howitzer toward Russian troops outside the frontline city of Bakhmut on March 5, 2023.
Ukrainian servicemen fire a howitzer toward Russian troops outside the frontline city of Bakhmut on March 5, 2023. (Anna Kudriavtseva/Reuters)

Russian forces suffered "significant losses" after launching dozens of attacks around the eastern city of Bakhmut during the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian military said Tuesday.

"Over the last day, Ukrainian soldiers repelled more than 140 enemy attacks," along the front lines throughout eastern Ukraine, the General Staff said in its daily update.

Many of those attacks were to the north of Bakhmut, where Russian forces are trying to cut the Ukrainians' ability to access the city, it said. "Over the past 24 hours, the enemy has carried out 37 attacks near the village of Dubovo-Vasylivka," it said, referring to a settlement that lies just northwest of Bakhmut.

Ukrainians dig in: Ukraine's decision to reinforce units holding the city comes amid renewed tensions between the head of the Wagner private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Prigozhin has frequently complained that his fighters are being deprived of ammunition while asserting they are doing the bulk of the fighting around Bakhmut.

Late Monday he wrote on his company's Telegram channel that on Sunday he had written "a letter to the commander of the SVO group [special military operation] about the urgent need to allocate ammunition."

"On [Monday] at 8 a.m., my representative at the headquarters had his pass revoked and denied access to the group's headquarters," Priogozhin claimed.

He also suggested that Ukraine was allocating more units to "unblock" Bakhmut.

Major battle: In its latest assessment of the battlefield, the Institute for the Study of War in Washington said that "taking Bakhmut is necessary but not sufficient for further Russian advances in Donetsk Oblast, and Russian forces have already taken such heavy losses fighting for the city that their attack will very likely culminate after they have secured it — if not before."

"Ukraine’s fight for Bakhmut has become strategically significant because of the current composition of Russian forces arrayed in the area," ISW said.

1:08 a.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Analysis: Why the 2024 shadow campaign between Trump and DeSantis should worry Ukraine

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

Former President Donald Trump, left, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Former President Donald Trump, left, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Getty Images)

Donald Trump says he’d end the war in Ukraine in one day and avert World War III, while Ron DeSantis is keener on waging a culture war than a proxy one to save a foreign democracy.

The ex-president and the Florida governor’s escalating shadow campaign for the 2024 Republican nomination is likely to exacerbate the already growing antipathy among grassroots conservatives for being Ukraine’s arsenal of democracy.

This should worry the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has profusely thanked Americans for their multi-billion dollar generosity while warning he will keep asking for more.

A bitter Republican primary that turns on the isolationist sentiment of the party’s “Make America Great Again” wing could produce a nominee, and possibly a 47th president, who could shelve the assurance of Joe Biden that Americans will stand by Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

There are already early signs of ebbing public support for Biden’s repeated aid and arms packages for Ukraine a year after Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion. And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Trump ally, has warned against a “blank check” for Ukraine.

The reaction of the ex-president’s proteges in the GOP-controlled House to Biden’s daring secret visit to Kyiv last month suggests that the 2024 Republican nominee will surely cater to a base that believes the US should spend its money securing its own borders instead of Ukraine’s and that Biden cares more for foreigners than Americans.

Read the full analysis here.

12:26 a.m. ET, March 7, 2023

China's foreign minister equates possible supply of weapons to Russia with US military support for Taiwan

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

Qin Gang attends a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday, March 7.
Qin Gang attends a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday, March 7. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

China’s foreign minister on Tuesday equated any possible future military support from Beijing for Russia's war in Ukraine with US weapons sales to the self-ruled island of Taiwan.

“Why does the US ask China not to provide weapons to Russia while it keeps selling arms to Taiwan?” Foreign Minister Qin Gang asked during a news conference.

Qin said it was “absurd” for “senior US officials” to be interjecting in the issue of Taiwan, which he said is a “matter for the Chinese people.”

“No other country has the right to interfere in it,” he said.

China’s ruling Communist Party sees democratic Taiwan as part of its territory, despite never having controlled it, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly refused to rule out the use of force in “reunifying” it with the Chinese mainland.

Qin reiterated Beijing's long held stance on Tuesday, refusing to rule out the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.

“We will continue to work with the greatest sincerity and utmost efforts to pursue peaceful reunification," he said. "Meanwhile, we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures.”

In terms of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Qin said Tuesday that “China did not create the crisis, it is not a party to the crisis and has not provided weapons to either side.”

“China always makes its own judgment and decides on this position independently based on the merit of the issue," Qin said." Between war and peace, we have chosen peace; between sanctions and dialogue, we have chosen dialogue; between fanning the flames and lowering the temperature, we have chosen the latter."

Some context: Beijing's efforts to present itself as peacemaker in the Ukraine war have been severely undermined by its refusal to acknowledge the nature of the conflict — it has so far avoided calling it an “invasion” — and its diplomatic and economic support for Moscow.

11:49 p.m. ET, March 6, 2023

Russia-China relations are "imperative" in an unstable world, China's foreign minister says

From CNN's Beijing bureau

Good relations between Beijing and Moscow are essential in this unstable world, China's foreign minister said Tuesday.

“The more unstable the world becomes, the more imperative it is for China and Russia to steadily advance their relations,” Qin Gang said.

The minister was speaking during a news conference outlining China’s foreign policy on the sidelines of the country's 14th National People’s Congress. 

“China and Russia is based on no alliance and no confrontation and is not targeted at any third party. It is not a threat to any country," he added.

Later in the news conference, Qin said "the process of peace talks should begin as soon as possible" to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and that "sanctions and pressure will not solve the problem."

"The Ukraine crisis has come to a critical juncture,” he said. “Either hostilities stop and peace is restored and the process of political settlement begins, or more fuel is added to the flames and the crisis further expands and spirals out of control."

Some context: US officials have warned in recent weeks that intelligence suggests China is considering sending lethal aid to Russia, which Beijing has denied.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week cautioned that arming Moscow’s forces would cause China serious problems around the world.

“China can’t have it both ways when it comes to … the Russian aggression in Ukraine. It can’t be putting forward peace proposals on the one hand, while actually feeding the flames of the fire that Russia has started with the other hand,” Blinken said.

8:03 p.m. ET, March 6, 2023

Zelensky orders reinforcement of Bakhmut, saying that no part of Ukraine can be abandoned

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Yulia Kesaieva

Ukrainian servicemen drive a tank in the village of Chasiv Yar, near the city of Bakhmut, on Sunday.
Ukrainian servicemen drive a tank in the village of Chasiv Yar, near the city of Bakhmut, on Sunday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday he ordered the reinforcement of positions inside the city of Bakhmut, explaining there was no part of Ukraine that could be abandoned.

The president said he took the decision after consulting with the military.

“I told the chief of staff to find the appropriate forces to help the guys in Bakhmut. There is no such part of Ukraine that can be abandoned,” Zelensky said. “There is no Ukrainian trench in which the resilience and heroism of our soldiers would not be valuable.”

Zelensky also seemed to address rumors of a Ukrainian withdrawal from the eastern city, referring to those as “disinformation messages,” coming from those who didn’t have access to the confidential decision-making briefings where such a decision would have to be taken.

Zelensky said Ukraine would defend every inch of its country.

“We are defending and will continue to defend every part of Ukraine,” he said. “When the time comes, we will liberate every city and village in our country. And we will make the occupier answer for every shot against Ukraine, for every vile act against Ukrainians.”

8:02 p.m. ET, March 6, 2023

"We will find the murderers," Zelensky vows in response to video showing killing of unarmed Ukrainian soldier

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva, Victoria Butenko and Vasco Cotovio

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers his nightly address on Monday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers his nightly address on Monday. (Office of the Ukrainian Presidency)

President Volodymyr Zelensky promised Ukraine would find those responsible for killing an unarmed Ukrainian soldier.

His comments Monday were in response to a video showing an unarmed soldier in Ukrainian combat fatigues being shot by assailants who do not appear in the footage.

“Today, a video has been released showing how the occupiers brutally killed a warrior who bravely said to their faces: "Glory to Ukraine!,” Zelensky said in his nightly address. “I want us all to respond to his words in unity: "Glory to the hero! Glory to heroes! Glory to Ukraine!”

Zelensky said Ukraine would never forget those who had died for their country and thanked those currently on the battlefield.

“We will find the murderers,” he said.

Some background: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba blamed Russia and said it was additional proof that Moscow’s invasion was “genocidal.” The Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets, among several others, said he has shared the video with international partners as "evidence of yet another Russian war crime."

CNN has not been able to independently verify the identity of the executed POW, where he was shot, and who shot him. CNN has reached out to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to get further details. 

CNN has also reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense but has yet to hear back. Russia has consistently denied accusations that it or its soldiers have committed war crimes during what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

7:58 p.m. ET, March 6, 2023

Ukrainian officials call for war crimes investigation in response to video of alleged POW execution

From CNN’s Darya Tarasova, Vasco Cotovio and Yulia Kesaieva

Ukrainian officials have lashed out against Moscow after a video showed one of the country’s soldiers, allegedly in Russian captivity, being executed seemingly by Russian soldiers. 

The video shows an unarmed soldier in Ukrainian combat fatigues smoking a cigarette near what appears to be a fighting position. The man is then shown pulling the cigarette from his mouth, blowing out the smoke and can be heard saying “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine), before fighters off camera fire several shots at him. 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba blamed Russia and said it was additional “proof” that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine was “genocidal.”

“It is imperative that [Prosecutor] Karim Khan QC launches an immediate [International Criminal Court] investigation into this heinous war crime,” he tweeted on Monday. “Perpetrators must face justice.”

The Ukrainian President’s Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak also said the incident was a “war crime.”

“Those [war crimes] are an element of a [methodical] policy of terror, which is whitewashed by Kremlin propaganda with its myths about "Nazis,” There will be punishment for every such war crime,” Yermak tweeted Monday. “No one will dodge justice. We'll find them all.”

The Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets said he shared the video with international partners as "evidence of yet another Russian war crime."

“The execution of a captured Ukrainian soldier is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. It is a manifestation of rascality and ignobility,” Lubinets wrote on Telegram.

CNN has not been able to independently verify who the executed POW is, where he was shot, or who shot him.