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Ukrainian forces are mostly holding their positions around the fiercely contested eastern city of Bakhmut, but at a high price, according to one commander.
"Bakhmut is withstanding," said Col. Yurii Madyar, commander of the 28th Brigade, but it's "becoming increasingly difficult to do so."
Russian forces have taken little additional territory in the past 24 hours, according to geolocated video and frontline accounts.
If you're just now catching up, here's what else you should know:
On the ground. There were Russian attacks on the central Poltava region as well as the Bilohorivka and Kreminna areas in the eastern Luhansk region, Ukrainian officials said. The General Staff said several civilians were wounded in Russian rocket attacks in the northern region of Kharkiv. It also reported heavy shelling along the frontline that runs north-south on the Luhansk-Kharkiv border.
Beijing's stance: China's position on the Ukrainian crisis is consistent and clear, President Xi Jinping told his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, on Wednesday, according to a Chinese readout of the meeting. Xi urged involved countries to "stop politicizing and instrumentalizing the world economy" and take steps to resolve the war. President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he is readying for an upcoming visit by Xi to Moscow, according to the Kremlin.
Russia's START note: Russia handed an official note to the United States on Tuesday on the suspension of Moscow's participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian state media RIA Novosti Wednesday. The note did state that Russia will continue to observe the treaty's central provisions, Ryabkov told RIA. It comes after Putin signed a law suspending Russia's participation in START, imperiling the last remaining pact that regulates the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. The US is still in compliance with the treaty, but State Department spokesperson Ned Price suggested that could change depending on “how Russia chooses to proceed."
Wagner update: Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said there are no Serbian nationals among the mercenary group's fighters in Ukraine, after "the last one" left the area two months ago. The comments come after Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić accused Wagner of trying to recruit Serbs to fight in Ukraine.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said there are currently no Serbian nationals among the Wagner PMC fighters in Ukraine, after "the last one" left the area two months ago. The comments come after Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić accused Wagner of trying to recruit Serbs to fight in Ukraine.
"Vučić is throwing this tantrum over nothing. There are no Serbs in Wagner PMC to date (as of March 1, 2023)," Prigozhin said in a comment posted on his public Telegram channel.
"The last one who fought in the Wagner PMC left the area two months ago. If any Serb claims he fought in the Wagner PMC in 2023, it is a lie. Do not believe him," he said.
The remarks come after POLITICO published an article featuring comments from Vučić, who was quoted saying that Serbs who have been recruited to fight in Ukraine “are going to be arrested when they come back to Serbia."
"You don’t recruit like that in a friendly country," the Serbian president told POLITICO.
Vučić has openly accused Wagner of trying to recruit Serbian fighters for its ranks. His comments echo similar remarks published in Serbian media, according to CNN affiliate N1. The private Russian military company has advertised for personnel on Russia Today’s Serbian-language portal, according to N1.
Vučić has sought to balance Serbia's cultural and religious ties with Russia, with ambitions to join the European Union and NATO.
Ukrainians have reported attacks in the Bilohorivka and Kreminna areas in the eastern Luhansk region of Ukraine.
"There is constant shelling of our de-occupied settlements along the front line, despite the fact that there are many civilians in some settlements," Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said. "The enemy is well aware of this and still it shells with heavy caliber weapons."
For the past two months, the front lines close to the border of Luhansk and Kharkiv regions have seen heavy exchanges of fire as well as fighting in the forests west of Kreminna, which is held by the Russians.
"They also have a lot of Lancet kamikaze drones, and they are trying to use them to search for positions and equipment and to inflict fire," Hayday said.
There has also been heavy fighting east of the town of Kupyansk, which is in the same zone.
The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service released video of aerial reconnaissance in the area, saying that over the past few days 117 drone reconnaissance flights had helped fix artillery fire.
The General Staff said that in the northern region of Kharkiv, several civilians had been wounded in Russian rocket attacks. It reported heavy shelling along the frontline that runs north-south on the Luhansk-Kharkiv border.
Southwest of Donetsk city, "the enemy conducted unsuccessful offensive actions," according to the General Staff.
CNN has geolocated video published by one Ukrainian brigade showing several Russian tanks and fighting vehicles being struck near the town of Avdiivka.
"In the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions, the enemy is defending," the General Staff said, but "in some areas, it is trying to create conditions for an offensive."
The General Staff said Russian artillery had fired at more than 40 settlements in the long front line that runs from Donetsk through Zaporizhzhia and into Kherson.
Russian forces continue to press their offensive in the Bakhmut area in eastern Ukraine, but have taken little additional territory in the past 24 hours, geolocated video and frontline accounts suggest.
"We have muffled the enemy a little bit," a soldier from the 93th Brigade said, according to video comments posted by the Land Forces of Ukraine. "It's a little calmer, but there are still gunfights on the outskirts. There are isolated explosions, shells are flying. But we are standing in Bakhmut. No one is going to retreat yet."
Col. Yurii Madyar, commander of the 28th Brigade, said in a video message on Telegram that "Bakhmut is withstanding," but that the price for holding on to the city "is becoming increasingly difficult to do so."
"The enemy has been raging for the last day first of all with the intention of destroying this city, to destroy as much of the remaining life here as possible — and at any cost to ensure the bypassing of the city of Bakhmut on the flanks in order to surround it and block the routes of military movement and delivery of necessary supplies," Madyar said.
He added that there were battles involving small arms to the north of Bakhmut, and there was "street fighting in the suburbs along the eastern, northern and southern and western-southern outskirts."
Ukrainian units "are holding the northern flank to prevent the enemy from encircling Bakhmut," Madyar said.
"We have stopped the enemy in this area for a long time and did not allow their propaganda to shout to the whole world about their great offensive successes in this area," he said.
As the ground softens with springtime, Madyar said he foresees the enemy not being able to "carry out any quick operations."
Oleksii Reva, head of Bakhmut city military administration, said there were still heavy battles for the city. "It is painful to see what enemy shells are doing to the city," he said on Facebook.
"It is extremely dangerous in Bakhmut," Reva said. "The enemy is mercilessly destroying the city, injuring and killing civilians. To date, the Russians have destroyed over 4,400 residential buildings."
The military's General Staff said that while "the enemy continues to advance in the Bakhmut sector," attacks on settlements to the west of Bakhmut — Khromove, Ivanivske, Orikhovo-Vasylivka and Chasiv Yar — have been repelled.
Russia has given the US an official diplomatic note on its withdrawal from the New START, a key nuclear arms reduction agreement, according to the State Department.
“I think it is fair to say that what we have learned from that diplomatic note did not tell us anything we didn’t already know from the public statements that have emanated from Moscow,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday.
Price called Russia’s decision to unilaterally suspend the treaty “unfortunate” and “irresponsible.”
“Russia is not better off in a world where the two largest nuclear powers are no longer engaged in bilateral arms control,” Price said, adding that "Russia’s willingness to promote instability, to promote irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, endanger every nation on this planet.”
Price said that the US is still in compliance with the treaty, “including New START’s numerical limits” on nuclear weapons, but suggested that could change depending on “how Russia chooses to proceed.”
“If we see Russia take steps that would require any sort of change in our own nuclear posture or approach, we will make those adjustments as is appropriate,” the official said.
A senior State Department official said Monday that they were “still receiving notifications, as recently as today, under the treaty, regular notifications,” but “we expect that as soon as that suspension has been formalized, that those will stop.”
More background: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last month that he was suspending his country’s participation in the treaty, imperiling the last remaining pact that regulates the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.
The treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides would soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement.
Under the key nuclear arms control treaty, both the United States and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other’s weapons sites, though inspections had been halted since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ukrainian officials say there has been a missile attack on the central Poltava region in Ukraine amid widespread air-raid warnings across the country.
"The enemy launched a missile attack on civilian and critical infrastructure in Kremenchuk district," Dmytro Lunin, the head of Poltava's military administration, said in a brief Telegram post. "Information on casualties and damage is being updated."
On Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry accused Ukraine of launching a spate of attempted drone strikes targeting infrastructure deep inside Russia, including near the capital. CNN is unable to independently confirm the claims for the alleged attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he is readying for an upcoming visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow, according to the Kremlin.
Putin said he plans to meet with his counterpart and the Chinese delegation about a Moscow metro line during their visit to the Russian capital. A Russian division of a Chinese construction enterprise, China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC), was involved in building a section of the metro line, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
"I plan to meet with the President of China, and if the agenda permits, we will be happy to show it to our guests. At least, I think that members of the delegation should be able to see it," Putin said during the opening ceremony for the Big Circle Line, according to a transcript from the Kremlin. Putin attended the ceremony virtually.
Some key context: Beijing has refused to acknowledge the nature of the Ukraine conflict – it has so far avoided calling it an “invasion” – and continued diplomatic and economic support for Moscow.
Russia has repeatedly requested drones and ammunition from China, sources familiar with the intelligence said, and Chinese leadership has been actively debating over the last several months whether or not to send the lethal aid, the sources added.
The Russian defense ministry claimed in a statement that the military prevented a "massive" drone attack on Crimea.
"Six Ukrainian strike unmanned vehicles were shot down by air defense systems. Four more Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles have been put out of action by means of electronic warfare," the statement published on Wednesday said.
There were no casualties, according to the ministry, which did not release any photographic evidence of the drones, nor provide details about the locations where the drones were allegedly brought down.
On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported that electronic warfare systems had suppressed Ukrainian drones that tried to attack Krasnodar and neighboring Adygea in southwestern Russia. Russian authorities also claimed that a Ukrainian drone had crashed near Kolomna in the Moscow region, but an image of the drone could not be geolocated.