Wagner chief sends a video message to Zelensky from Bakhmut
From Olga Voitovych in Kyiv
The head of the Russian private military company Wagner has issued a video message from inside the city of Bakhmut, standing in front of a tank monument situated in the eastern part of the city.
Yevgeny Prigozhin dismissed Ukrainian claims that Wagner was taking heavy losses in the fight for Bakhmut and was close to finished as a fighting force.
"We will conquer this frontier with dignity," he said.
"The [Russian] Defense Minister has told you that after capturing Bakhmut, the operational space will open. And the world has not yet faced the Russian army, which is well prepared, with those units that have not yet entered into battle, with all possible modern weapons, intelligence, ideally prepared," he added.
"They are waiting for their time. Right after the opening of the operational space by PMC Wagner after Bakhmut. Then the whole world will shudder."
Prigozhin also addressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with an appeal.
"The only request — take out the elderly, children. And (send) here normal combat-ready units."
"We need to deal with you here now," he said.
Some background: Prigozhin shared an audio clip on Telegram earlier Wednesday, claiming that the eastern part of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is now under Wagner's control. CNN cannot independently confirm Prigozhin’s claim. While the Ukrainian military did not address his claims, it said that Russian attacks in the Bakhmut area continue, but described them as unsuccessful and incurring heavy losses.
5:45 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023
German defense minister warns against drawing hasty conclusions from Nord Stream pipelines media reports
From CNN's Stephanie Halasz and Chris Stern
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said people should be wary of drawing conclusions too hastily after the recent release of media reports alleging that a "pro-Ukrainian group" may have been behind last year’s attack on the Nord Stream pipelines.
In an interview with the German public radio station Deutschlandfunk (DLF), Pistorius said it is also possible that the attack was a false-flag operation.
"It could just as well be, and this has also been made clear in the reports, that it was a false flag action (operation), in other words, to blame pro-Ukrainian groups and make it look that way, the probability of one or the other is equally high, so we must now wait and see how things develop," Pistorius told DLF.
"It does not help us to think about the impact this would have on our support for Ukraine on the basis of such research, which has undoubtedly been done painstakingly and meticulously," Pistorius said.
Some context: 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.
A report by the New York Times Tuesday cited new intelligence that a "pro-Ukrainian group" may have been behind the attack. Ukraine has denied any involvement.
"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.
4:54 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023
EU must decide quickly on funding for ammunition for Ukraine, Estonian defense minister says
From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London
European Union member states must quickly reach a consensus on funding for ammunition for Ukraine, Estonia’s defense minister said Wednesday.
"We need fresh money and we need it quickly," Hanno Pevkur said ahead of a meeting with his counterparts in Stockholm.
"When we bring this fresh money, then this will also increase the capacity of the industry, and this is what we need anyway also for the future, that the European industries are capable of producing more shells."
Some of that new money is expected to be used to purchase 155-millimeter artillery shells.
Some background: Last week, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky met with top government officials from the Netherlands and Estonia in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.
Zelensky expressed his gratitude for the "significant defense, financial, energy and legal support" provided by both countries since the beginning of Russia's invasion, his office said in a statement.
4:44 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023
Ukrainian military says Russians taking heavy losses during intensified attacks around Bakhmut
From CNN's Tim Lister
The Ukrainian military says that Russian attacks in the Bakhmut area continue, but describes them as unsuccessful and incurring heavy losses.
Some Ukrainian soldiers in the Bakhmut area have said that getting in and out of the city has become almost impossible because the Russians have all the routes to the west under their fire control. The dirt track being used has become almost impassable for any organized military column.
What Russia could do with Bakhmut: The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based military organization that closely monitors the conflict in Ukraine, assesses that "Russian forces lack the capability to exploit the tactical capture of Bakhmut."
The ISW analysis said that the Russians' growing use of "small assault detachments using simplified tactics, combined with mounting losses among the most effective Russian troops, will likely greatly limit the ability of Russian forces to properly exploit any paths of advance opened by the capture of Bakhmut."
4:26 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023
66 people detained during protests in Georgia on Tuesday
From CNN's Radina Gigova in London
Georgia's Ministry of Internal Affairs detained 66 people on Tuesday evening during protests against a so-called anti-foreign agents bill at the parliament building in Tbilisi, the country's public broadcaster First Channel reported Wednesday.
The ministry said those held are being charged with petty hooliganism and disobeying police, according to First Channel.
Protests erupted in the Georgian capital on Tuesday as the first reading the draft law on foreign agents was adopted in parliament. Critics say the law would limit press freedom and restrict civil society.
The ministry said the protest went beyond the framework of a peaceful assembly and turned violent. The protesters tried to block entrances to parliament, threw stones, smashed glasses and damaged iron fences, according to First Channel.
Police were forced to use what authorities called proportional force to restore public order, the ministry said, according to Fist Channel.
The United States Embassy in Georgia said Tuesday was a "dark day for Georgia's democracy," while EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said the Georgian Parliament's passage of the legislation was a "very bad development" for Georgia and its people.
3:56 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023
IMF chief says Ukraine war will have "devastating" consequences for Russia's economy
From CNN's Julia Horowitz
The International Monetary Fund has drawn criticism for forecasting that Russia will see stronger economic growth this year than either the United Kingdom or Germany, despite rising pressure from Western sanctions.
But Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF’s managing director, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow that the economic outlook for Russia beyond 2023 is “quite devastating.”
“When you take our projections over a medium term, what they mean is Russia[’s economy] shrinking by at least 7%,” Georgieva said in an interview that aired Wednesday.
In January, the IMF projected that Russia’s economy would expand by 0.3% this year and 2.1% the next. That was much more optimistic than the latest forecasts from both the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Economists at those groups have penciled in contractions of 3.3% and 5.6% in 2023, respectively.
Even Russia’s own central bank, which extended emergency capital controls for another six months on Monday, has said gross domestic product might contract by 1% this year.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale management professor, wrote in Fortune magazine Monday that the “IMF has been asleep at the switch” and parroting propaganda from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Thousands protest in Georgia as Ukraine war brings Russia tensions to the surface
From CNN's Katharina Krebs, Caitlin Hu, Vasco Cotovio and Tara John
Protests erupted in Georgia's capital city on Tuesday after parliament passed the first reading of a controversial draft law that would require some organizations receiving foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.”
Protesters’ chants, with insults aimed at both Georgian politicians and Russian President Vladimir Putin, underline fears that the bill follows the model of a controversial law in neighboring Russia that has already imposed draconian restrictions and requirements on organizations and individuals with foreign ties.
Thousands of protesters could be seen outside the parliament building on Tuesday night, holding not just the Georgian flag but also European Union and Ukraine flags, as longstanding tensions in the country -- parts of which are occupied by Russia -- bubbled to the surface.
Some protesters threw stones and petrol bombs, as security forces responded with tear gas and water cannon. Video posted on social media also showed protesters storming a barricade at the entrance to the parliament building and tearing it down.
There are fears the law could impede the country’s hopes of closer ties with the European Union.
The President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, threw her support behind protesters, in a video message posted on Facebook, saying “the path of European integration must be protected. Those who support this law today, all those who voted for this law today are violating the Constitution. All of them are alienating us from Europe,” she said.
Zourabichvili called it “an unnecessary law that did not come out of nowhere, but was dictated by Moscow,” telling protesters that she was “standing next to you because you are the very people who represent free Georgia today. The Georgia which sees its future in Europe and will not let anyone take this future away from it.”
The Georgian bill has been widely criticized as posing a potential chilling effect for Georgian civil society, and particularly NGOs and news organizations with links to Europe.
The former Soviet republic has played a balancing act between its citizens’ pro-European sentiment and its regional positioning next to Russia. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in 2011 that had Russia not invaded Georgia in 2008, NATO would have expanded into Georgia.
“In the last few years, and especially over the past 18 months, Georgia’s ruling coalition has made a series of moves that seem designed to distance the country from the West and shift it gradually into Russia’s sphere of influence,” ECFR writes in a report where it attributes much of the drift to the ruling Georgian Dream party.
2:50 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023
Wagner chief claims "entire eastern part of Bakhmut" is under Russian group's control
From CNN's Josh Pennington
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian private military company Wagner, claimed on Wednesday that the eastern part of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is now under its control.
“The entire eastern part of Bakhmut is under the control of Wagner PMC. Everything to the east of the Bakhmutka River is under the complete control of Wagner PMC,” Prigozhin said in an audio clip shared on Telegram.
CNN cannot independently confirm Prigozhin’s claim and has reached out to the Ukrainian military for its response.
On Tuesday, footage geolocated by CNN showed Wagner fighters plant the group's flag on top of a monument in eastern Bakhmut.
The monument is located 500 meters from the Bakhmutka river, suggesting that Ukrainian forces may have withdrawn from the eastern part of the city to consolidate their positions west of the river.
1:27 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023
Kremlin claims Nord Stream sabotage reports are part of a "misinformation campaign"
From CNN’s Josh Pennington, Sophie Jeong and Hannah Ritchie
Reports that a "pro-Ukrainian group" carried out the attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines last year are part of a "misinformation campaign," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state media on Wednesday.
"Clearly, the authors of the attack want to divert attention. This is an obvious misinformation campaign coordinated by the media," Peskov told state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
His comments come after the New York Times on Tuesday published a report citing new intelligence reviewed by US officials that a "pro-Ukrainian group" may have been behind last September's attack targeting Russia’s gas deliveries to Europe.
Ukraine has denied any involvement in the sabotage.
Peskov also “expressed bewilderment” as to how US officials could "make assumptions about terrorist attacks" on the pipelines without an investigation, RIA reported. He called for an “urgent, transparent investigation” into the incident, RIA said.
Some context: Mystery has surrounded who might be responsible for the brazen sabotage, 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 began.
A source familiar with the US intelligence told CNN the assessment cited in the New York Times' report was not made with high confidence and is not the predominant view of the intelligence community. The US has not yet identified a culprit for the attack, the source said.