Russia deploying most experienced units to Bakhmut amid intense fighting "in and around" city, Ukraine says
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Vasco Cotovio in London
The Ukrainian military said “intense fighting is taking place in and around the city” of Bakhmut in the east, with Russian forces deploying their more experienced units.
“The Russian occupiers have sent the most trained units of the PMC Wagner and other regular units of the Russian army to capture the city. Intense fighting is taking place in and around the city,” the Ukrainian Army Land Forces said in a post highlighting the visit to the front line by the commander of the Eastern Group of Forces, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi.
“In Bakhmut, the commander listened to the reports of the commanders on the situation in their subordinate units, and was informed about the problematic issues of improving the defense capability of our units on the front line,” the post read.
According to the Ukrainian military, Russia continues to press in the hopes of “capturing Bakhmut and continues to accumulate forces to occupy the city.”
Earlier Friday: CNN reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia's mercenary group Wagner said that Bakhmut was "surrounded," and called on President Volodymyr Zelensky to order his forces to withdraw. Ukraine dismissed Prigozhin's remarks, calling it a "disinformation campaign."
8:59 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023
What you need to know about the battle for Bakhmut as Russian fighters edge into the eastern city
From CNN's Rob Picheta
Russian forces are edging closer and closer to capturing the city of Bakhmut, after weeks of bloody fighting gradually wore down a resolute Ukrainian resistance. Here’s what you need to know about the battle for Bakhmut:
Why is Bakhmut in focus?
Bakhmut is not the sort of city Moscow had hoped to be fighting for in the second year of its invasion – it is a relatively small location in eastern Donetsk, which has remained out of reach of Russia’s sluggish ground campaign for many months.
Russian forces have been making incremental gains around the city, but Ukrainian forces are yet to retreat, creating a standoff that recalls drawn-out battles for other eastern cities such as Severodonetsk over the past year.
Bakhmut's capture would represent some military progress for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and give his forces the opportunity to launch aerial attacks on more urban areas further west.
What’s happening on the ground?
There are still around 4,500 civilians in Bakhmut, including 48 children, the spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Donetsk regional military administration Tetiana Ignatchenko told CNN on Wednesday. She called on people to evacuate the city due to the danger.
But Ukrainian troops have acknowledged that it is becoming harder to hold onto the city as the routes in from the west are squeezed by Russian forces, who have advanced both to the north and south of Bakhmut.
The Ukrainian military has also confirmed that Russian forces are employing more experienced fighters from the ranks of the Russian private military company Wagner as they attempt to capture the town.
What does Bakhmut mean for the war?
The city's capture would represent a long sought-after success for Moscow’s forces – and bring some limited strategic value. It has important road connections to other parts of the Donetsk region; eastwards to the border with Luhansk, northwest to Sloviansk and southwest to Kostiantynivka.
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.
It also matters to Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been keen to show his men can deliver with the seizure of Soledar and now Bakhmut.
But experts say capturing Bakhmut is unlikely to dramatically alter the overall picture of the war in eastern Ukraine, where little territory has changed hands in 2023.
CNN’s Tim Lister, Vasco Cotovio, Olga Voitovych, Jessie Gretener, Eleanor Pickston, and Laura Ford contributed reporting
8:26 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023
Founder of Wagner mercenary group calls on Ukraine's Zelensky to order Bakhmut withdrawal
From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Olga Voitovych, Allegra Goodwin and Gianluca Mezzofiore.
The founder and financier of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin says his forces have all but surrounded Bakhmut, and is calling on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to order a withdrawal from the Donetsk city.
"The PMC Wagner units have almost surrounded Bakhmut, there is only one road left," he said to Zelensky in a video filmed on the northern outskirts of Bakhmut and posted on his social media channels. "The pincers are tightening."
They [Ukrainian soldiers] are fighting, but their lives near Bakhmut are short - a day or two. Give them a chance to leave the city. The city is in fact surrounded," Prigozhin concluded.
Russian attempts at encircling the city seemed to have eased Thursday into Friday, according to the Institute for the Study of War, with focus shifting toward pushing Ukrainian forces to withdraw from the city.
What Kyiv is saying: Ukraine dismissed the video, with Ukraine’s Centre for Strategic Communication saying on Friday that "this is part of a disinformation campaign against the population of Ukraine to spread panic and provoke the top military and political leadership."
The organization highlighted that Prighozin’s video was filmed on the outskirts of Bakhmut and not inside the city – matching CNN’s geolocation and analysis.
“The Russian command avoids visiting the front line, and it is not the first time that Prigozhin has imitated being on the front line while actually being in the rear,” the center added.
8:14 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet Biden on Friday after transformative year
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned Scholz — who took office two months before Russia’s invasion — into a crisis leader, overseeing Europe’s largest economy and most powerful democracy during the worst violence on the continent since World War II.
And it has thrust him and Biden into one of the world’s most consequential relationships, sustained by shared opposition to Russia’s invasion but strained at moments over how to respond.
White House officials say over the past year, Biden has developed a solid relationship with Scholz, who succeeded longtime chancellor Angela Merkel at the end of 2021. They spoke by phone three times in January alone, and during Friday’s session at the White House they are expected to speak extensively one-on-one in the Oval Office.
They could also touch on recent intelligence suggesting China is considering providing Russia with lethal aid, a step US officials fear could prolong the conflict, though China won’t be a “driving focus” of the talks.
7:24 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023
It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know
From CNN staff
The founder and financier of the Wagner mercenary group has called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to order a withdraw from Bakhmut, saying the city is "surrounded."
Russian forces are advancing on the city, but the Ukrainian military said it is holding its ground in the battle for the eastern city and is not planning to withdraw.
Here are the latest developments:
Wagner says 'pincers are tightening around Bakhmut': In a video filmed on the northern outskirts of Bakhmut and posted to social media,Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said: "The PMC Wagner units have almost surrounded Bakhmut, there is only one road left." He added: "The pincers are tightening." Russian attempts at encircling the city seemed to have eased Thursday into Friday, according to the Institute for the Study of War, with focus shifting toward pushing Ukrainian forces to withdraw from the city.
Vital supply bridge to Bakhmut blown up: A vital bridge connecting Bakhmut to the nearby village of Khromove has been blown up overnight by Russian forces, according to multiple sources speaking with CNN. A photo that confirmed the destruction appeared on social media. The bridge is the last main supply route from Bakhmut to the city of Chasiv Yar, and without any more paved roads for Ukraine to use in or out of the city, the supply and evacuation route will now be forced to go through dirt roads, both sources added.
Ukraine defense minister "confident" West will send fighter jets: Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he is "confident" Western countries will supply fighter jets to Ukraine, despite resistance from some allies, according to an interview published in Germany's Die Bild newspaper Friday. He said he believes there will be a "so-called fighter jet coalition," like there is with the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks from Western allies.
China acknowledges different views on Ukraine but gives no reason for not signing G20 joint statement: China acknowledged Friday that there are "different views on the Ukraine crisis" among G20 members but stopped short of explaining its reasons for not signing a joint statement regarding the Russia-Ukraine war following the group's foreign ministers' meeting in New Delhi. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that "nothing except Ukraine" was of interest to the G20, calling it "a shame."
6:56 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023
Ukrainian forces blow up railway bridge inside Bakhmut
From CNN's Olga Voitovyh
Ukrainian forces have blown up the remainder of a railway bridge inside the city of Bakhmut, according to Ukrainian forces and social media video geolocated by CNN.
The bridge was previously damaged by Ukrainian forces in August, and has now been blown up further.
The video of the controlled explosion was widely shared on social media on Friday, along with unconfirmed reports it was a sign Ukrainian forces were preparing to withdraw from the city.
Ukraine’s 46th Brigade, currently operating in the city, denied the reports, saying the bridge was already unusable.
"The bridge that is now being shown as proof that we are leaving was blown up a long time ago. Those who are in Bakhmut know that. Now it was just a control shot. Don't spread panic," the soldiers said. "And yes, one can cross the river there without a bridge."
Some context: Russian forces are advancing on Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian military says it is holding its ground in the battle for the eastern city and is not planning to withdraw.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said Friday the city is "surrounded" and called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to order a withdrawal.
6:41 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023
Kremlin says extra measures taken to ensure safety of Russian borders after Bryansk attack
From CNN’s Anna Chernova
The Kremlin said Friday additional measures were being taken to ensure the safety of the Russian borders from further incursions following an attack on the Bryansk region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday there was an attack in the Ukraine-bordering Bryansk region, which he blamed on "neo-Nazis" who he said had penetrated the area.
In a press briefing Friday, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said a special "border regime" is in place and additional measures to protect the frontiers are being taken. He added that no decisions were made by Putin as of yet in regard to introducing martial law following the attack.
Peskov's claims: Peskov praised a boy who reportedly survived the incident with injuries and a driver who the local authorities claimed died under fire.
Commenting on the incident earlier, Minister of Education Sergey Kravtsov called the boy a hero and added that he had saved two other children from the car that was under shelling.
"A 10-year-old boy took two children out of the car, and they escaped. This is a real heroic deed," the minister said, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.
6:15 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023
Russian foreign minister says its a "shame" that "nothing except Ukraine" is of interest to G20
From CNN's Martin Goillandeau
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that "nothing except Ukraine" was of interest to the G20, calling it "a shame."
"[The] G20 was formed in 1999 at the level of ministers of finance and central bank directors. And then in 2008, it became a ’summit G20.’ Nobody was giving a damn about anything except finances, and macroeconomic policies, which G20 was formed for," Lavrov told the audience of the Raisina Dialogue, an annual geopolitics conference in New Delhi, India.
"These days, when it's not something the West is doing, believing that it is right ... when Russia has, after many years of warnings, started to defend itself. There is nothing except Ukraine that is of interest to G20. It's a shame," the Russian top diplomat added.
Answering a question on how the Ukraine war affected Russia’s energy interest, Lavrov called the conflict "the war which we are trying to stop and which was launched against us using the Ukrainian people," remarks that were met with generalized laughter from the audience in Delhi.
Some background: Since the beginning of the conflict, Russian President Vladimir Putin has portrayed his military operation as a response to a threat posed by NATO to its territory, claiming Moscow had no choice but to defend itself by attacking Ukraine without provocation.
A few days into the war, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution deploring the "aggression" committed by Russia against Ukraine. Russian diplomacy, meanwhile, has assiduously courted nations in the developing world -- particularly those which suffered from colonial rule -- as a counter to Western condemnation.
5:27 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023
Ukraine's defense minister is "confident" the West will send fighter jets
From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov has said he is "confident'' that Western countries will supply fighter jets to Ukraine despite resistance from some allies, according to an interview published in Germany's Die Bild newspaper Friday.
Reznikov is confident Ukraine will receive "two to three different types of fighter jets," he is quoted as saying in the newspaper, adding ''this will depend on the engineers, air fields, maintenance and spare parts."
He said he believes there will be a "so-called fighter jet coalition," like there is with the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks from Western allies.
Western allies have signaled to Kyiv that they are ready to start training pilots on fighter jets and understand that fighter jets are the next step in strengthening Ukraine's air defense system, according to Die Bild.