Watch the moment Russian jets intercept U.S. drone; Poland to send fighter aircraft to Ukraine

Watch the moment Russian jets intercept U.S. drone; Poland to send fighter aircraft to Ukraine

This has been CNBC’s live blog covering updates on the war in Ukraine. [Follow the latest updates here.]

The chasm between Russia and the West is widening, as the dispute over a downed U.S. drone which fell into the Black Sea on Tuesday — after an encounter with two Russian fighter jets — sends ripples across the geopolitical landscape.

Three U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday that the highest levels of the Kremlin likely approved the aggressive actions of Russian jets against the MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone, but it was uncertain whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had approved the harassment of the unmanned aerial vehicle.

Both the U.S. and Russia said they would try to recover remnants of the drone Wednesday, signaling another potential flashpoint in already dire relations between the two nations. The U.S. said it had erased “sensitive information” gathered by the drone and that, in any case, the UAV had probably broken up in the sea.

Back in Ukraine, the situation in Bakhmut remains tense. Both Russian and Ukrainian officials conceded this week that fighting there is “difficult.”

On Thursday, the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine’s Donetsk region said there were no signs Ukrainian fighters are withdrawing from the city and that Ukraine was in fact seen to be accumulating forces near Chasiv Yar, a town to the west of Bakhmut.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again called for a tribunal to punish Russia for war crimes alleged to have been committed over more than a year of its invasion of Ukraine.

“The day will come and a tribunal will be created that will restore justice to our people. A tribunal that will punish this aggressor in the same way that past aggressors were punished,” he said in a nightly address, according to an NBC News translation.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine is “mobilizing all partners necessary for this.”

A U.N.-backed inquiry accused Russia of war crimes including torture and attacks on civilians.

Russia has previously said it does not target civilians.

— Jacob Pramuk

Students, teachers and activists take part in the rally on the Independence Square in Kyiv, demanding to rename the Ukrainian National Tchaikovsky Academy of Music. It is named after Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

— Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it is “imperative” that Russia allow the deal that reopened key Ukrainian ports to continue.

Speaking during a trip to Niger, the top U.S. diplomat said the Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped to alleviate food insecurity caused by the war and a Russian naval blockade, which held up critical Ukrainian agriculture exports to the world.

“So millions of people around the world and especially here in Africa, rely on this initiative to help deal with food insecurity. It’s imperative that it continue, and it’s imperative that Russia allow it to continue,” he said, according to NBC News.

Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations are holding discussions on extending the agreement.

— Jacob Pramuk

Experts from the Center for Captured Weapons Research, part of the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces, claim Russia is having difficulty producing new tanks due to Western sanctions.

— Oleksii Chumachenko | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke about fighting on the front lines in Ukraine and Britain’s ongoing aid to the war-weary country.

“I informed him of the situation at the front, Bakhmut’s defense,” Zelenskyy said in a tweet. “Exchanged views on recent international events. As always, we have concrete results in increasing defense & economic support for Ukraine.”

— Jacob Pramuk

Attendees stand next to aligned candles forming the word “Children,” in front of the National Opera of Ukraine in Kyiv, during a commemorative event to mark the first anniversary of the bombing of the Mariupol Drama Theater.

— Getty Images

It is unclear based on video of the encounter if a Russian fighter jet intended to hit a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone, John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, told reporters.

Newly declassified footage showing the incident was released Thursday. Kirby stated it wasn’t the first time a U.S. drone has been intersected in that airspace and it’s “not uncommon” for it to happen. But he added it was “clear it was aggressive flying, reckless flying.”

“It is not clear to us that the pilots intended to strike the drone. At best, it’s reckless flying. At worst, it’s reckless and incompetent,” Kirby said. “I can’t point to that video and say this is a deliberate intent to escalate.”

Kirby stressed that the U.S. is not looking to fight Russia, but will continue to support Ukraine.

“We have made it clear on many occasions we do not seek a conflict with Russia,” Kirby said. “We do mean to continue to support Ukraine. We do mean to continue to bolster our presence and our deterrence capability along NATO’s eastern flank.”

Emma Kinery

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke about the latest news from the battlefield in Ukraine, the State Department said.

Ukraine and Russia have fought fiercely in recent weeks over the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Blinken also reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

— Jacob Pramuk

A deal allowing the safe export of grain from several of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports clearly calls for a 120-day rollover, the United Nations said after Russia suggested extending the deal for just 60 days.

The pact is due to expire on Saturday. It was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July – and renewed in November – to combat a global food crisis that was fueled in part by Moscow’s Feb. 24, 2022 invasion of neighboring Ukraine and blockade of its Black Sea grain exports.

“For us, the text in the agreement is clear and it calls for a 120-day rollover,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Reuters when asked about remarks by Turkey.

Turkey said on Wednesday that it would continue talks to extend the deal for 120 days rather than 60 days. Ukraine has also said the agreement should be renewed for 120 days.

Senior U.N. and Russian officials met in Geneva on Monday to discuss extending the grain deal.

— Reuters

China is concerned about an escalation of the war in Ukraine and hopes Moscow and Kyiv will hold peace talks, senior Chinese diplomat Qin Gang told his Ukrainian counterpart on a phone call.

China, which has refrained from condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, has urged both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation leading to a comprehensive ceasefire in its 12-point paper on the “political resolution of the Ukraine crisis”.

The plan, which received a lukewarm welcome on both sides, called for the protection of civilians and respect for each other’s sovereignty.

“China hopes that all parties will remain calm, rational and restrained, and resume peace talks as soon as possible,” Qin told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

Qin added that China hopes Ukraine and Russia will not close the door to a political solution no matter how difficult and challenging the situation, the ministry said.

— Reuters

A former mayor of Russia’s fourth-largest city was detained on charges that could land him behind bars, part of authorities’ efforts to muzzle dissent.

Yevgeny Roizman, a sharp critic of the Kremlin, is one of the most visible and charismatic opposition figures in Russia. He enjoyed broad popularity while serving as mayor of Yekaterinburg, a city of 1.5 million people in the Ural Mountains.

Last year, Roizman, 60, who was the mayor from 2013 to 2018, faced accusations of discrediting the Russian military and was barred from attending public events, using the internet, telephone or mail and communicating with anyone other than his lawyers and close family pending his trial.

Police arrested Roizman on Thursday on charges of reposting material containing a reference to the organization led by jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny that was banned by authorities. Roizman rejected the accusations, telling a court in Yekaterinburg during a hearing after his detention that he wasn’t even registered on that social network. His lawyer said the repost was done by members of one of his numerous support groups.

— Associated Press

Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killing in occupied regions, amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, according to a report from a U.N.-backed inquiry.

The sweeping human rights report, released a year to the day after a Russian airstrike on a theater in Mariupol killed hundreds sheltering inside, marked a highly unusual condemnation of a member of the U.N. Security Council.

Among potential crimes against humanity, the report cited repeated attacks targeting Ukrainian infrastructure since the fall that left hundreds of thousands without heat and electricity during the coldest months, as well as the “systematic and widespread” use of torture across multiple regions under Russian occupation.

A commission of inquiry is the most powerful tool used by the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council to scrutinize abuses and violations around the world. The investigation released Thursday was set up during an urgent debate shortly after Russia’s invasion last year.

— Associated Press

Poland will send Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets in coming days, the president said on Thursday, making it the first of Kyiv’s allies to provide such aircraft.

One of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, Warsaw has taken a leading role in persuading sometimes hesitant allies to provide Kyiv with heavy weaponry. It has said that any transfer of jets would be as part of a coalition.

“Firstly, literally within the next few days, we will hand over, as far as I remember, four aircraft to Ukraine in full working order,” Andrzej Duda told a news conference.

“The rest are being prepared, serviced.”

On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that deliveries could be made in four to six weeks. Duda said that Poland had roughly 10-20 MiG 29 jets.

NATO allies in the former communist east such as Poland and Slovakia have been particularly vocal supporters of Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Slovakia has also been considering whether to send MiG-29 jets to Ukraine but has yet to reach a decision. Poland has sent 14 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Asked last week how many MiG-29 planes Warsaw might supply, the head of the president’s office, Pawel Szrot, said it would “certainly not” be as many as 14.

— Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused euro zone countries of trying to convince the international community that the Russian economy is facing an “imminent collapse.”

Speaking at the congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Putin dismissed the notion that Russia’s economy is laboring under international sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, citing a quote attributed to writer Mark Twain by saying “the rumors about his death are greatly exaggerated.”

“[Inflation in the Russian Federation], of course, will be lower than in the euro zone countries, which are endlessly waiting for the collapse of the Russian economy, they are trying to convince themselves and our partners of this,” Putin said, according to remarks published by news agency TASS.

“But let us recall again the well-known American writer who once said that rumors about his deaths are greatly exaggerated. That’s how it is with our economy,” he said.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Russia’s economy will grow 0.3% in 2023 while it forecast, back in January when it released its World Economic Outlook, that the euro zone would grow 0.7%. The rise in central bank rates to fight inflation and Russia’s war in Ukraine continue to weigh on economic activity, the IMF noted.

— Holly Ellyatt

The U.S. military released newly declassified footage Thursday showing a Russian fighter jet intercepting its MQ-9 Reaper drone.

The U.S. Department of Defense said the footage shows a Russian Su-27 aircraft conducting an “unsafe” and “unprofessional intercept” of a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 in international airspace over the Black Sea on March 14.

At the start of the footage a Russian Su-27 approaches to the rear of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9 and then begins to release fuel as it passes. The fighter jet passes over the top of the U.S. drone and the propeller of the drone can be seen undamaged. As a Russian jet begins a second approach it again begins to release fuel and passes even closer to the drone, causing the drone’s camera feed to be lost.

When the camera feed returns to working order, the defense department noted that at this time, “the propeller can be seen again and one of the props can be seen damaged.”

It’s worth noting that the declassified video has been edited for length but the events are depicted in sequential order.

The U.S. said the Russian fighter jets had behaved in a reckless manner and that their actions, whether intentional or not (and U.S. officials have told NBC News they don’t believe the contact with the drone was deliberate) forced the U.S. to bring down its drone over the Black Sea.

Moscow has effectively blamed the U.S. for the incident, denying any collision with the drone and saying the surveillance drone’s location, near Crimea (which Russia annexed in 2014) was of a “provocative nature.”

— Holly Ellyatt

The Kremlin said on Thursday it regretted Moldova’s “unjustified prejudice” against Moscow, and that Russia remained open to good relations.

Moldova has been in focus since the start of the Ukraine conflict, with fears that the small country, which borders Ukraine and has Russian peacekeepers stationed in the pro-Moscow breakaway Transdniestria region, could be dragged into the conflict.

“Russia has always been – and remains – open to establishing neighbourly, mutually beneficial relations with Moldova,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

“We seriously regret that the leadership of Moldova is experiencing unjustified and baseless prejudice against Moscow. They are probably suffering from an infection of Russophobia,” he said.

— Reuters

Russian attempts to assault the town of Vuhledar in Donetsk “have almost certainly slowed” over the past week, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Thursday, following what it called “repeated, extremely costly failed attacks over the previous three months.”

One factor in Russia’s heavy losses in this sector has been Ukraine’s successful adoption of Remote Anti-Armor Mine systems (RAAM), the ministry noted in an intelligence update on Twitter. RAAM is a specialist artillery shell which scatters anti-armor mines up to 10.5 miles away from the firing unit.

“In some instances, Ukraine has launched the mines over and behind advancing Russian units, causing disarray when Russian vehicles attempt to withdraw,” the ministry noted.

The ministry said, however, that “Russia’s only notable recent tactical success has been in the Bakhmut sector” which is dominated by Wagner Group mercenary forces.

Noting the ongoing, and very public, feud between the head of the Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Russian Ministry of Defense, the U.K. said “there is a realistic possibility that Russia’s MoD has been insistent in its drive for success in Vuhledar, partially because it wants its own success to compete with Wagner’s achievements.”

Holly Ellyatt

The situation in Bakhmut in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, remains tense and intense, with both Russian and Ukrainian officials conceding this week that fighting there is extremely difficult.

On Thursday, the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine’s Donetsk region said there were no signs Ukrainian fighters are withdrawing from the city, and said Ukraine was building up forces in the area around Chasiv Yar, a town to the west of Bakhmut.

In comments reported by news agency RIA Novosti, the acting head of the pro-Russian “Donetsk People’s Republic” Denis Pushilin told a Russian broadcaster that Russian forces see no sign that Ukraine is going to withdraw troops from Bakhmut, a city that Russia calls “Artemovsk.”

“In Artemovsk, the situation remains difficult. We do not see that there are any prerequisites that the enemy is going to withdraw units, and for [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy to save (them),” Pushilin told the Rossiya 24 TV channel.

He also claimed that that the only road for the Ukrainian forces to use to access Bakhmut was coming under fire from Wagner Group mercenary forces, making it difficult for Ukraine to deliver ammunition, food and reinforcements to Bakhmut. 

Nonetheless, Pushilin said Russia was seeing that Ukraine was accumulating forces in the Chasiv Yar area, near Bakhmut.

His comments contradict a report yesterday in which Pushilin’s spokesperson suggested “scattered” units were trying to withdraw from the city via country roads and fields.

— Holly Ellyatt

Three U.S. officials told NBC News that the highest levels of the Kremlin approved the aggressive actions of Russian military fighter jets against a U.S. military drone that was downed over the Black Sea Tuesday. 

The Russian jets dropped jet fuel on the MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone and two of the officials familiar with the intelligence on the matter told NBC News that it suggested that the intention of the jets was to throw the drone off course or disable its surveillance capabilities. 

It was “Russian leadership’s intention to be aggressive in the intercept,” one of the officials told NBC.

However, the officials said they believed that it was likely not intentional when one of the Russian jets clipped the propeller of the drone, an act that forced the U.S. to bring the UAV down into international waters in the Black Sea. Instead, U.S. video of the incident suggested it was more likely to be pilot error.

Russia denies that either of its jets collided with the drone and has essentially blamed the U.S. for the incident, its defense ministry stating Wednesday that “flights of American strategic unmanned aerial vehicles off the coast of Crimea are provocative in nature.”

Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin approved Russia’s apparent harassment of the U.S. drone is uncertain. One official said he had not had indications that the signoff went all the way up to Putin, and the other officials declined to provide specifics beyond “highest levels.”

Read more on the story here: Russian leadership approved aggressive actions of jets that damaged U.S. drone, U.S. officials say

— Holly Ellyatt

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev held talks Wednesday with his visiting Romanian counterpart as the two neighbors and NATO allies signed a cooperation agreement to boost bilateral ties amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Radev met with Klaus Iohannis in the capital, Sofia, where the two leaders discussed topics including regional security, energy, and economy. They also discussed their countries’ bids to one day join Europe’s ID-check-free travel zone, the so-called Schengen area.

In a news conference afterwards, Radev highlighted Tuesday’s U.S. drone collision with a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea, saying “we must do everything possible” to prevent events from escalating into a global conflict.

“In addition to supporting Ukraine,” he said, “we must work to end this conflict as quickly as possible.”

“The profound geostrategic changes on our borders, with consequences in the extended Black Sea region … prompt us to realize the need for even closer cooperation,” he said.

Iohannis said that he discussed with Radev the EU’s enlargement policy; the expansion of transport infrastructure; and the need to support embattled Moldova, which is not a member of the EU or NATO and has been heavily affected by the war in Ukraine.

— Associated Press

The U.K. Supreme Court ruled that Ukraine can go to trial to avoid repaying $3 billion in loans it said it took under pressure from Russia in 2013 to prevent it from trying to join the European Union.

The court rejected a bid by a British company acting on Russia’s behalf to order Ukraine to repay the loans without facing a trial. Ukraine said it borrowed the money while facing the threat of military force and massive illegal economic and political pressure nearly a decade before Russia invaded its neighbor.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that the ruling was “another decisive victory against the aggressor.”

“The Court has ruled that Ukraine’s defense based on Russia’s threats of aggression will have a full public trial,” he tweeted. “Justice will be ours.”

The case was argued in November 2021, and the court was not asked to consider Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three months later.

Ukrainian authorities allege that the corrupt government of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych borrowed the money from Moscow under pressure before he was ousted in protests in February 2014, shortly before Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

After the 2014 Ukraine revolution, the country’s new government refused to repay the debt in December 2015, saying Moscow wouldn’t agree to terms already accepted by other international creditors.

— Associated Press

Russia’s Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said that Moscow will “no longer allow anyone to break into its waters,” according to Russian state media agency TASS.

Antonov’s comments come on the heels of a Russian fighter jet downing a U.S. drone operating over the Black Sea.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday that its two fighter aircraft did not come in contact with the U.S. drone. In a statement posted on its official Telegram channel, the ministry said the drone was flying with its transponders off near the Crimean Peninsula when it went into “unguided flight” and then fell into the water.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine has invited Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential candidate, to visit the country after he downplayed Russia’s war on Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” and said the conflict should not be a top priority for the U.S.

Ukrainian foreign ministry official Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter that “we are sure that as a former military officer deployed to a combat zone, Governor Ron DeSantis knows the difference between a ‘dispute’ and war,” he said on Twitter.

“We invite him to visit Ukraine to get a deeper understanding of Russia’s full-scale invasion and the threats it poses to U.S. interests,” he added.

Nikolenko’s comments come after DeSantis appeared to dismiss the significance of the war in Ukraine, telling Fox News that “while the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness with our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”

When DeSantis was a member of Congress, he voted for several defense spending bills that provided U.S. military and intelligence support for Ukraine after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

— Holly Ellyatt, Amanda Macias

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad offered Russian President Vladimir Putin his support in the conflict in Ukraine.

In a televised meeting with Putin in the Kremlin, Assad said Russia was fighting neo-Nazis and “old Nazis” in Ukraine, according to a Russian translation.

Without offering evidence, Assad said the West had taken in “old Nazis”, and was now giving them support.

Kyiv and the West say Russian accusations that Ukraine has become a hotbed of Nazism and “Russophobia” are a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine.

Russia’s military support for Assad helped him to turn the tide in a ruinous civil war that began in 2011 as a pro-democracy movement.

— Reuters

U.S. officials told Russia’s ambassador to the United States that Moscow has to be more careful when flying in international airspace, White House spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday, following the crash of a U.S. military drone into the Black Sea after being intercepted by Russian fighter jets.

The State Department on Tuesday summoned Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, to express U.S. concerns over the incident, the first since the war in Ukraine began more than a year ago.

“The message that we delivered to the Russian ambassador is that they need to be more careful in flying in international airspace near U.S. assets that are, again, flying in completely legal ways, conducting missions in support of our national security interests,” Kirby said in an interview with CNN.

“They’re the ones that need to be more careful.”

Kirby also said the MQ-9 surveillance drone has not been recovered and may never be recovered, given the depth of the Black Sea where it went down.

“It has not been recovered,” Kirby said. “And I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to recover it. Where it fell into the Black Sea – very, very deep water. So we’re still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort. There may not be.”

The Pentagon said one of the Russian Su-27 jets struck the propeller of the drone on Tuesday, making it inoperable, while Russia’s defense ministry blamed “sharp maneuvering” of the unmanned drone for the crash and said that its jets did not make contact.

Antonov, the Russian ambassador, said the drone “deliberately and provocatively was moving towards Russian territory with transponders turned off.”

— Reuters

British and German fighter jets were scrambled Tuesday to intercept a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace.

Marking the first joint NATO interception of its kind, the British and German air forces deployed Typhoon jets to intercept a Russian IL-78 Midas air-to-air refueling aircraft after it failed to communicate with Estonian air traffic control. 

Following a successful escort, the British Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the pair of Typhoons were then redirected to intercept a Russian AN-148 airliner, also passing Estonian airspace.

The British Ministry of Defense noted that the mission by the NATO allies was standard procedure, stating that “the interception is however a routine NATO mission for the Typhoons which provides reassurance that the U.K. and Germany together with other NATO allies stand with their Estonian ally at this time of tension.”

The U.K. is preparing take over from Germany to lead the NATO mission in Estonia and this latest incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between the Western military alliance and Russia. On Tuesday, a U.S. drone was downed over the Black Sea after an encounter with two Russian fighter jets.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov appeared to blame the U.S. for the downing of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday that the U.S. military blamed on the “reckless” and “unsafe” behavior of Russian fighter jets.

Antonov said in comments posted on the Russian embassy’s Telegram account that he had told U.S. officials that Russia’s position on the incident was that the U.S. drone had been “moving deliberately and provocatively towards the Russian territory with its transponders turned off” and it had then, he claimed, “violated the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation,” which is how Russia describes its invasion of Ukraine.

Antonov, who was summoned by the U.S. State Department on Tuesday to explain the incident, insisted that the Russian fighter jets did not come into contact with the drone and said “the unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders are cause for concern.”

“We are well aware of the missions such reconnaissance and strike drones are used for,” he said, claiming that they are used to “gather intelligence which is later used by the Kiev regime to attack our armed forces and territory.”

The ambassador called for the U.S. to “stop making sorties near the Russian borders” and said Moscow perceives “any actions involving the use of American weapons and military equipment as openly hostile” but then added that Russia “does not seek confrontation” with the U.S.

The U.S. military said Tuesday that two Russian fighter jets had intercepted the drone while it was in international airspace, harassing it in a possible bid to damage the drone before one of the jets clipped the unmanned aerial vehicle, causing it to crash.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War say the incident is unlikely to cause an escalation between the countries, however, noting Tuesday that “Russian forces have used coercive signaling against US and allied flights and naval vessels for decades in multiple theaters without triggering conflict.”

— Holly Ellyatt

The head of Russia’s mercenary force — the private military company known as the Wagner Group — fighting for control of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine said Wednesday that Russian forces have taken control of a village to the north of the city.

“Assault detachments are expanding the encirclement of Bakhmut. This morning, the settlement of Zaliznyanskoe [known in Ukraine as Zaliznyans’ke] was taken by assault detachments of PMC Wagner,” Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio comment on his business’ Telegram channel that was reported by Russian state news agency TASS.

CNBC was unable to verify the claims.

Bakhmut remains the hottest spot in the war in Ukraine with intense battles between Ukrainian forces trying to defend the city against regular Russian units and mercenary forces within the Wagner Group. Both sides are claiming they’re inflicting significant personnel losses on the other on a daily basis.

Russian forces claim to control all paved roads into the city and analysts say they surround the city to the north, east and south. Ukraine has vowed to defend Bakhmut to the last, despite doubts over the merits of that strategy.

Kyiv is seen to want Russia to expend its manpower on fighting in Bakhmut while Ukraine awaits more weaponry from its international allies and can launch a renewed counteroffensive in spring.

— Holly Ellyatt

An Ukrainian serviceman attaches a hand grenade to use in an attack, near Bachmut, in the region of Donbas.

— Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images


Related Articles