Pressure is mounting on Ukrainian troops trying to hold the town against Russian soldiers hoping to capture it no matter the cost, as Ukraine-Russia conflict stretches to its 378th day.

Ukrainian servicemen ride a 2C1 self-propelled howitzer along a road near the frontline town of Bakhmut in Donetsk region, Ukraine on March 8, 2023.
Ukrainian servicemen ride a 2C1 self-propelled howitzer along a road near the frontline town of Bakhmut in Donetsk region, Ukraine on March 8, 2023. (Reuters)

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has warned that the devastated eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut may fall into Russian hands in the coming days following months of intense fighting. 

"What we see is that Russia is throwing more troops, more forces and what Russia lacks in quality they try to make up in quantity," Stoltenberg told reporters in Stockholm on the sidelines of a meeting of EU defence ministers. 

"They have suffered big losses, but at the same time, we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days." 

The head of the Western military alliance, which backs Ukraine, insisted "it is also important to highlight that this does not necessarily reflect any turning point of the war." 

"It just highlights that we should not underestimate Russia. We must continue to provide support to Ukraine," he said.

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2036 GMT — Zelenskyy invites top US lawmaker to Kiev 

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has invited top US lawmaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, to visit Ukraine as doubts over support for Kiev's war efforts simmer in Congress, particularly among conservatives.

Zelenskyy proposed the visit in an interview with CNN, which will be broadcast later Wednesday.

"Mr McCarthy, he has to come here to see how we work, what's happening here, what war caused us, which people are fighting now, who are fighting now. And then after that, make your assumptions," Zelenskyy said, speaking through an interpreter in excerpts released by the outlet.

"I think that Speaker McCarthy, he never visited Kiev or Ukraine, and I think it would help him with his position," the Ukrainian leader said.

But McCarthy told CNN that he does not need to visit Ukraine to understand the situation. McCarthy's Democratic predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, visited Kiev in May 2022 to demonstrate her support.

While McCarthy has not opposed the aid, he has said more than once that Congress should not be writing "blank checks" to support the war without close scrutiny.

1900 GMT — Russia unlikely to make 'major' gains in Ukraine this year: US intel

Russia's offensive to seize additional Ukrainian territory is unlikely to lead to major battlefield gains, the head of US intelligence has said amid raging hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that Russia's military is "experiencing high casualty rates" as the Kremlin pushes its offensive on Ukraine's Donbass region, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "likely better understanding the limits of what his military is capable of achieving."

"It will be increasingly challenging for them to sustain even the current level of offensive operations in the coming months and consequently, they may fully shift to holding and defending the territories they now occupy," she said during testimony before the Senate intelligence committee.

"We do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains," she added.

1517 GMT — US spy chiefs see China continuing to cooperate with Russia, despite Ukraine backlash 

China will maintain its cooperation with Russia to continue trying to challenge the United States, despite international concerns about the attack on Ukraine, US intelligence agencies have said.

"Despite global backlash over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, China will maintain its diplomatic, defence, economic, and technology cooperation with Russia to continue trying to challenge the United States, even as it will limit public support," they said in a report tied to the Senate Intelligence Committee's annual hearing on worldwide threats to US security. 

The report largely focused on threats from China and Russia, assessing that China will continue using its military and other assets to intimate rivals in the South China Sea and that it will build on actions from 2022, which could include more Taiwan Strait crossings or missile overflights of Taiwan.

1335 GMT — Ukraine and UN chief call for Black Sea grain deal extension 

Ukraine's president and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have called for the extension of the Istanbul grain deal that has allowed Kiev to export grain via Black Sea ports during Russia's offensive. 

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after talks with Guterres in Kiev that the initiative was necessary for the world. Guterres underlined the importance of the deal to global food security and food prices. 

The 120-day deal, brokered by Türkiye in July and extended in November, will be renewed on March 18 if no party objects.

1122 GMT — Zelenskyy thanks women defending Ukraine 

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has praised Ukrainian women on International Women's Day for taking a central role in defending their country against Russia's offensive. 

"I think it is important to give thanks today. To thank all the women who work, teach, study, rescue, heal, fight — fight for Ukraine," Zelenskyy said in a short video on social media. 

It was also a day "to remember, think about and thank all women who gave their lives for our country", he added. 

"Together we are strong. Together we are invincible. Together we are free. And together we will definitely win. We will," Zelenskyy said. 

0940 GMT — UN believes video of Ukrainian soldier's killing 'may be authentic'

The United Nations has said it believes that a viral video showing the apparent execution of a captured Ukrainian soldier by Russian troops may be authentic.

The footage appears to show a detained Ukrainian combatant standing in a shallow trench being shot to death with multiple automatic weapons after saying: "Glory to Ukraine".

"We are aware of this video posted on social media that shows a Ukrainian soldier hors de combat (not in combat) apparently being executed by Russian armed forces. Based on a preliminary examination, we believe that the video may be authentic," a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office told AFP.

"Since Russia's armed attack on Ukraine over a year ago, the UN Human Rights Office has documented numerous violations of international humanitarian law against prisoners of war, including cases of summary execution of both Russian and Ukrainian POWs," she said.

0930 GMT — Reports on Nord Stream explosions 'coordinated stuffing in media': Kremlin

"Obviously, the authors of the attack want to divert attention. This is clearly a coordinated stuffing in the media,”" Kremlin spokes man Dmitry Peskov told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Tuesday's media reports.

Peskov said he was bewildered about how US officials could assume anything about the explosions without an investigation.

"This is not just strange. It smells like a monstrous crime. At a minimum, the countries that are shareholders of the Nord Stream pipelines and the UN should demand an urgent transparent investigation with the parti cipation of everyone who can shed light on it," Peskov further said.

0809 GMT — Russia's Wagner Group claims to hold 'eastern part' of Bakhmut

The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group has said that his forces had taken "all the eastern part" of Bakhmut, the east Ukrainian town where fighting has raged for weeks.

"Wagner units have taken all the eastern part of Bakhmut, all that's east of the Bakhmutka river" that bisects the town, Wagner chief and Kremlin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio message released by his press service.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the army was intent on defending Bakhmut but warned the Russian army would have an "open road" into eastern Ukraine if it captured the town.

The battle for Bakhmut, a salt-mining town with a population of 80,000 before the fighting began, has been the longest and bloodiest in Russia's operation, which has devastated swathes of Ukraine and displaced millions over the past year.

0705 GMT — 'Pro-Ukraine group' behind Nord Stream sabotage

US officials have seen new intelligence that indicates a "pro-Ukrainian group" was responsible for the sabotage last year of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, claims dismissed by a senior Ukrainian official.

In a cautious report that did not identify the source of the intelligence or the group involved, the Times said the US officials had no evidence implicating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the pipeline bombing.

But it is claimed that the attack benefitted Ukraine by severely damaging Russia's ability to reap millions by selling natural gas to Western Europe.

0700 GMT — EU defence chiefs to discuss arming Ukraine 

EU defence ministers were preparing to meet to discuss a plan to rush one billion euros of ammunition to Ukraine as pressure mounts on Kiev's allies to boost supplies to its war effort.

Ukraine's critical shortage of ammunition will top the agenda at the meeting in Stockholm, where European leaders will try to replenish the thousands of 155-millimetre howitzer shells Ukrainian forces are firing each day in its fight against a grinding Russian offensive.

During a visit to Canada, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday underscored European resolve to ward off Russian aggression.

0640 GMT — UN chief Guterres to meet Zelenskyy in Kiev

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has arrived in Kiev where he hopes to negotiate an extension of the Türkiye-brokered wartime grain export deal between Russia and Ukraine to avoid worsening a global grain shortage.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative is currently scheduled to expire on March 19.

2300 GMT — Russia sees taking Bakhmut as key strategic win

Russia has said that taking control of the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine will allow the Russian army to develop an offensive.

"The liberation of Artyomovsk [Bakhmut] continues. This city is an important hub for the defence of Ukrainian troops in Donbass. Taking it under control will allow further offensive actions to be carried out deep into the defence of the Ukrainian Armed Forces," Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu said at a meeting with military chiefs in Moscow.

He stressed that the Western countries are increasing deliveries of arms and military equipment to Ukraine and expanding training of Ukrainian troops.

"At the same time, the support to the Kiev regime by NATO countries does not lead to the success of Ukrainian troops on the battlefield. On the contrary, there is a significant increase in losses among the personnel of the armed forces," he claimed.

2300 GMT — Belarus to work on new military doctrine

The Defence Ministry of Belarus has been tasked with developing a new military doctrine that would respond to the "escalation of global political tensions", Russian news agencies reported.

Although not directly involved in Russia's attack on Ukraine, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko allowed Moscow to use his country's territory to launch the war and send Russian troops to Ukraine.

Russian agencies, which cited the Belarusian Security Council's resolution ordering the doctrine, would not provide details on what the new military guide might involve.

The document orders "in the context of the escalation of global geopolitical tensions" the implementation of measures "aimed at protecting independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and the constitutional order from external and internal threats", TASS agency reported.

The Belarusian Security Council has also instructed the ministry to finalise the draft law on forming a new voluntary territorial defence within a month. In February, Lukashenko ordered the formation of the militia of between 100,000-150,000 volunteers.

2000 GMT — Biden, Macron discuss China, Ukraine

US President Joe Biden has spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron and discussed Russia's offensive in Ukraine and challenges posed by China, the White House said in a statement.

The leaders also discussed cooperation between the two countries in the Asia-Pacific region and on the transition to clean energy, the White House added.

For our live updates from Tuesday (March 7), click here.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies