March 8, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Joshua Berlinger, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond, Leinz Vales and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, March 9, 2023
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7:31 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Exclusive: Zelensky warns of "open road" through Ukraine’s east if Russia captures Bakhmut

From CNN's Rob Picheta

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky joins CNN to talk about the battle for Bakhmut, President Biden’s recent visit to Kyiv and more. Watch the full exclusive interview on Wednesday, March 8 at 9 p.m. ET.

Russian troops will have “open road” to capture key cities in eastern Ukraine if they seize control of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in an interview with CNN, as he defended his decision to keep Ukrainian forces in the besieged city.

“This is tactical for us,” Zelensky said, insisting that Kyiv’s military brass is united in prolonging its defense of the city after weeks of Russian attacks left it on the cusp of falling to Moscow’s troops.

“We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an exclusive interview from Kyiv. “That’s why our guys are standing there.”

A weeks-long assault from Wagner mercenary troops, which has picked up pace in recent days, has forced thousands from the city and decimated its infrastructure. But Ukrainian troops have also mounted a dogged defense of the area, stalling Russia’s progress.

Zelensky said his motivations to keep the city are “so different” to Russia’s objectives. “We understand what Russia wants to achieve there. Russia needs at least some victory – a small victory – even by ruining everything in Bakhmut, just killing every civilian there,” Zelensky said.

He said that if Russia is able to “put their little flag” on top of Bakhmut, it would help “mobilize their society in order to create this idea they’re such a powerful army.”

Read more here.

7:52 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Ukraine says its forces are repelling Russian attacks on Bakhmut

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Kostan Nechyporenko

Ukrainian forces have continued to repel Russian attacks on the battered city of Bakhmut, the military’s General Staff said in a situation update Tuesday.

“The enemy continues its assaults in the Bakhmut direction,” it said. “They do not stop assaulting the city of Bakhmut. Our defenders repelled attacks in the areas of Ivanivske, Klishchiivka, and Bakhmut.”

According to the Ukrainian military, Russian forces continue to focus their offensive not just on Bakhmut but also on Kupiansk, Lyman, Avdiivka, and Shakhtarsk.

“During the day, the enemy launched 19 airstrikes and one missile attack, as well as five attacks from multiple rocket launchers,” it also said.
10:56 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Kyiv denies involvement in Nord Stream pipelines sabotage

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko, Simone McCarthy and Natasha Bertrand

Ukraine has denied any involvement in the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines following a media report citing new intelligence that a “pro-Ukrainian group” may have been behind last year’s attack targeting Russia’s gas deliveries to Europe.

The dismissal by a senior Ukrainian official on Tuesday came in response to a report by the New York Times, which cited new intelligence that had been reviewed by United States officials.

“Although I enjoy collecting amusing conspiracy theories about (the Ukrainian) government, I have to say: (Ukraine) has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap and has no information about ‘pro-(Ukraine) sabotage groups,’” Mykhailo Podolyak, top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on Twitter.

The New York Times said the new intelligence reviewed by US officials suggested a group loyal to Ukraine but acting independently of the government in Kyiv were involved in the operation.

Mystery has surrounded who might be responsible for the brazen sabotage last September which damaged two pipes transporting Russian gas into the European Union and targeted a crucial source of revenue for Moscow. Both pipelines were closed at the time of the attack, which came months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A source familiar with the US intelligence told CNN the assessment was not made with high confidence and is not the predominant view of the intelligence community, and that the US has not yet identified a culprit for the attack.

There is a section of the US intelligence community that believes that pro-Ukrainian actors would have had the motive to sabotage the pipelines because of how Russia was weaponizing them against Ukraine and Europe.

The intelligence community has no evidence, however, that Ukrainian leaders, including Zelensky, had any knowledge of or involvement in the pipeline sabotage, the source said.

The incident, in which underwater explosions occurred before the pipelines burst in several places, remains a major point of contention between Russia and the West.

Read more here.

7:50 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Putin discussed volunteer battalions with Russian-installed governor of Zaporizhzhia, state media reports

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting Tuesday with Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed acting governor of the Zaporizhzhia region — which was declared annexed by Putin last year — where they discussed security issues and a volunteer battalion, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“Various issues related to the development of the Zaporizhzhia region, the functioning of the economy of business entities, and other aspects of the socio-economic situation were discussed,” Peskov told Russian state-run news agency Tass.

Peskov also said that “Balitsky raised the issue of the status of the Sudoplatov Volunteer Battalion with the President.”

In an interview with the Crimea 24 TV channel on Monday, Balitsky said the “unresolved issue” of the status of volunteer battalions makes it difficult for them to receive weapons.

Some background on Russia's claims of annexed regions: In September last year, Putin announced Russia would seize nearly a fifth of Ukraine, including the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. The move followed so-called referendums in the regions that were universally dismissed as “shams” by Ukraine and Western nations.

7:36 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Ukrainians report heavy Russian attacks in Luhansk

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko

While most attention is focused on the battle for the city of Bakhmut, fierce battles are also raging a short distance to the north, according to Ukrainian officials.

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said the situation "is difficult [in the Luhansk region] but controlled by the Defense Forces of Ukraine."

He said on Ukrainian television that "the most difficult areas are Bilohorivka and Kreminna," where there were constant assaults and shelling by Russian troops. 

"They are trying to push out our defenders to reach Stelmakhivka, Nevske, and recapture these settlements," he said.

Stelmakhivka and Nevske are villages on the borders of the Luhansk and Kharkiv regions that were recaptured by Ukrainian forces in September.

"When they [the Russians] lose personnel and their hardware is damaged, they take time to "recover" for about a day, replenish their supplies, and then go on the offensive again," Hayday said.

"There's more shelling now. We can clearly see that they have been given ammunition and supplies recently. That's why the number of attacks with 'heavy' artillery and tank attacks has increased."

Hayday said the Russians were regularly changing their tactics. "There were small groups; there were offensives with up to three companies of exclusively infantry; there was an offensive using 'armor' with up to two companies supported by 'heavy' hardware," he said.

In that way, the Russians were constantly trying to test the strength of Ukrainian defenses, he said.

7:16 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Zelensky vows justice after video appears to show Ukrainian soldier’s execution

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio, Yulia Kesaieva, Olga Voitovych, Darya Tarasova, Victoria Butenko and Sana Noor Haq

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to “find the murderers” involved in a video that he said showed the execution of a Ukrainian soldier by Russian troops, as officials in Kyiv roundly condemned the incident as a war crime.

The video shows an unarmed troop allegedly in Russian captivity wearing Ukrainian combat fatigues and 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 saying, “Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine),” before being executed, with fighters off camera firing several shots at him.

The Ukrainian Army’s 30th Mechanized Brigade named the soldier on Tuesday as Tymofii Mykolayovych Shadura.

The brigade said in a Facebook post that Shadura was part of the contingent and had been missing since Feb. 3 after fighting near the eastern city of Bakhmut, as the battle for control of the eastern Donetsk region intensifies.

“Currently, the body of our serviceman is on the temporarily occupied territory. The final confirmation of his identity will be established after the body is returned and the relevant examinations are conducted,” the brigade’s post added.

Zelensky denounced the video and said it shows “how the occupiers brutally killed a warrior.”

“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 on Monday. “I want us all to respond to his words in unity: ‘Glory to the hero. Glory to heroes. Glory to Ukraine.’”

“We will find the murderers,” he added.

CNN has not been able to independently verify who the executed soldier is, where he was shot, and who shot him. CNN has reached out to the Ukrainian defense ministry to get further details on the incident, and to the Russian defense ministry for a response. Russia has consistently denied accusations that its soldiers have committed war crimes during its invasion, despite evidence to the contrary.

Read more here.