The Wagner mercenary group has taken full control of the eastern part of Bakhmut, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed Wednesday, the eastern Ukrainian town where fighting has raged for weeks. Pressure has been mounting on Ukrainian troops trying to hold the town against Russian soldiers hoping to capture it no matter the cost. Follow our live blog for all the latest developments on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
6:57am: EU defence chiefs to discuss arming Ukraine as Bakhmut fighting rages
EU defence ministers were preparing to meet Wednesday to discuss a plan to rush one billion euros of ammunition to Ukraine as pressure mounts on Kyiv’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 Kyiv’s forces are firing each day in its fight against a grinding Russian offensive.
6:19am: Prigozhin says Wagner controls all of eastern part of Bakhmut
The Wagner group of mercenaries has taken full control of the eastern part of Bakhmut, Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Wednesday.
“Units of the private military company Wagner have taken control of the eastern part of Bakhmut,” Prigozhin said in a voice recording on the Telegram messaging platform of his press service.
“Everything east of the Bakhmutka River is completely under the control of Wagner.”
FRANCE 24 was not able to independently verify the report.
Prigozhin has issued premature success claims before.
5:35am: Kremlin says reports on Nord Stream attack “coordinated” effort to divert attention
Media reports on the Nord Stream pipelines attacks are a coordinated effort to divert attention and the Kremlin is perplexed how US officials can assume anything about the attacks without investigation, the Kremlin said on Wednesday.
“Obviously, the authors of the attack want to divert attention. Obviously, this is a coordinated stuffing in the media,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state RIA news agency. “How can American officials assume anything without an investigation?”
Peskov also said that Nord Stream shareholder countries should insist on an urgent, transparent investigation.
“We are still not allowed in the investigation. Only a few days ago we received notes about this from the Danes and Swedes,” Peskov said. “This is not just strange. It smells like a monstrous crime.”
4:33am: US intelligence sees ‘pro-Ukraine group’ behind Nord Stream sabotage, says media report
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 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 Zelensky in the pipeline bombing.
But the attack benefitted Ukraine by severely damaging Russia’s ability to reap millions by selling natural gas to Western Europe.
At the same time, it added to the pressure of high energy prices on key Ukrainian allies, particularly Germany.
“Ukraine has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap and has no information about ‘pro-Ukraine sabotage groups’,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted on Tuesday.
Although I enjoy collecting amusing conspiracy theories about 🇺🇦 government, I have to say: 🇺🇦 has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap and has no information about “pro-🇺🇦 sabotage groups”. What happened to the Nord Stream pipelines? “They sank,” as they say in RF itself…
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) March 7, 2023
US officials had no indication of who exactly took part or who organised and paid for the operation, which would have required skilled divers and explosives experts.
4:26am: Russia vows to capture Bakhmut, push further into Ukraine
The battle for Bakhmut has been the longest and bloodiest in Russia’s more than year-long invasion that has devastated swathes of Ukraine and displaced millions.
Russia has appeared intent to capture it at all costs.
“Capturing (Bakhmut) will allow for further offensive operations deep into the defence lines of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told military officials during a televised meeting on Tuesday.
4:20am: Swiss president opposes arms exports to Ukraine, citing neutrality
Switzerland remains opposed to exporting arms to war-torn Ukraine, the famously neutral country’s President Alain Berset said Tuesday on the sidelines of meetings at the United Nations.
Switzerland bars re-export of Swiss weaponry to nations at war, but the issue of the country’s long tradition of neutrality has been under debate since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine just over a year ago.
Read more: War in Ukraine tests long-standing neutrality of some European nations
“The discussion about the export of arms, weapons … while we have (our) legal framework in Switzerland, it is not possible to do it,” Berset, who currently holds the country’s rotating one-year presidency, told reporters on the margins of UN meetings on women’s rights. “For the government and for the Federal Council, we have to, and we want to, maintain this legal framework and to work in this legal framework.”
His comments came after Berlin requested in late February that German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall be permitted to acquire old Swiss Leopard tanks, guaranteeing they will not be transferred to Ukraine.
While the wealthy Alpine country, which is not a member of the European Union, has followed the bloc’s lead on sanctions targeting Moscow, it has so far shown less flexibility on its military neutrality.
4:05am: Russia would get ‘open road’ into Ukraine if Bakhmut falls, says Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Russian army would have an “open road” into eastern Ukraine if it captures the besieged city of Bakhmut, US media reported Tuesday.
“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 interview due to broadcast in the United States on Wednesday.
The Russian army has vowed to capture Ukraine’s eastern town of Bakhmut, a symbolic prize in months of fierce combat, as a precursor for offensives deeper into Ukraine.
1:25am: Macron and Biden spoke about the situation in Ukraine, says the Élysée Palace
French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the situation in Ukraine and how to restore peace in Europe with his US counterpart President Joe Biden, the Élysée Palace announced on Wednesday.
Macron and Biden also spoke about the situation in the Asia-Pacific region and in Iran, according to the Élysée.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)