Sunday’s Coverage: Deal Extended Over Black Sea Ports and Grain Shipments
Map: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 1703 GMT:
The head of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has published a letter to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warning of an imminent Ukrainian counter-offensive in the east of the country.
Prigozhin said the counter-offensive would try to cut off Wagner from coventional Russian forces in their struggling months-long assault in the Donetsk region.
The mercenary leader said the “large-scale attack” by the Ukrainians is planned for late March or the start of April.
The letter is the first correspondence with Shoygu that Prigozhin has published in his battle with the Defense Ministry for influence.
See also EA on Australia’s The World: Ukraine War — Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Battle Inside Moscow
UPDATE 1555 GMT:
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced another $350 military assistance for Ukraine.
The package has a large amount of munitions, including for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
‼️The White House announced a new $350 million military aid package for Ukraine
It will include ammunition for HIMARS, 155mm artillery rounds, High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARMs), and other equipment.
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 20, 2023
UPDATE 1305 GMT:
European Union foreign and defense ministers, meeting in Brussels, have agreed a €2 billion ($2.14 billion) plan to jointly purchase artillery shells for Ukraine, drawing down stockpiles.
The aim is to supply Ukraine with 1 million shells in the next year while replenishing the stocks of EU countries.
A historic decision.
Following my proposal, Member States agreed to deliver 1 mio rounds of artillery ammunition within the next 12 months.
We have a 3 track approach:
1) €1 bn for immediate delivery
2) €1 bn for joint procurement
3) commission to ramp up production capacity pic.twitter.com/CCNOaxE4bk
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) March 20, 2023
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted:
More artillery ammunition for Ukraine as fast as possible. This was the main focus of today’s EU Foreign Affairs Council. I anticipate the swift adoption of big decisions which will bolster Ukraine’s capabilities on the battlefield. pic.twitter.com/oQpIZDa3EJ
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 20, 2023
UPDATE 0935 GMT: The moment when Vladimir Putin’s carefully-managed trip to Mariupol, the Russian-occupied city in southeast Ukraine, was disrupted….
As Putin is greeted by “residents” who acclaim him as a great leader, a woman shouts, “It’s all not true! It’s all for show!”
Apparently missing the intervention, Russian officials kept the video up on the Russian President’s site and on State outlet RIA Novosti.
UPDATE 0745 GMT:
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin, over the mass deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia, is a “turning point” in the invasion.
In his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskiy said:
[This is a] truly significant international legal result for Ukraine, for justice….The evil state will be held accountable for every act of terror against Ukrainians….
The moment after which it becomes undeniable that the end of this aggression for Russia will be the full range of its responsibility. Responsibility for every strike on Ukraine, for every destroyed life, for every deported Ukrainian child….And, of course, for every manifestation of destabilization of the world caused by Russian aggression.
The moment after which it becomes undeniable that the end of this aggression for Russia will be the full range of its responsibility.
At a conference in London on Monday, ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan will ask for extra funds to pursue Russian war crimes in Ukraine.
The ICC’s budget has not been increased even though it has 40 investigators working in Ukraine. The UK and Dutch Governments have convened the conference to address the issue.
See also Ukraine War, Day 388: “Historic Decision” — Zelenskiy Hails ICC Arrest Warrant v. Putin
Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian President and the Deputy Chairman of the State Security Council, has threatened a missile strike against the ICC over the warrants against Putin and “Children’s Rights Commissioner” Maria Lvova-Belova.
Everyone walks under God and missiles. It’s quite possible to envision a scenario where a Russian ship stationed in the North Sea could strategically strike the Hague courthouse with a hypersonic Onyx missile.
He said the judges on the “shitty” Court should “look carefully at the sky.”
Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of Russian State outlet RT, said Moscow could strike any country that serves the warrant on Putin: “I’d like to see a country that will arrest Putin to enforce the Hague court’s decision. In about eight minutes. Or whatever the time it takes [a missile] to fly to its capital.”
And Russia’s Investigative Committee said it has opened a criminal case against the ICC judges and prosecutor Khan. It claimed that the arrest warrant for Putin and Lvova-Belova is “obviously illegal, as there are no grounds for criminal prosecution”.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: China’s leader Xi Jinping visits Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.
With his invasion of Ukraine in trouble, Putin will be hoping for a high-profile show of support from China. Over the weekend, the Russian leader visited occupied areas of Ukraine for the first time during his assault, with photo opportunities in Crimea on Saturday and the port city of Mariupol on Sunday.
The two leaders will inevitably issue a statement of “strategic cooperation”, and memorandums for economic, technological, and cultural cooperation will be signed.
But Putin is likely to be disappointed over any practical step such as military aid from Beijing. Looking to its own interests, China has tried to balance between Russia and the international coalition supporting Ukraine’s defense.
See also EA on India’s WION News: China’s Xi to Visit Putin in Moscow
Beijing’s public emphasis is on a role as the diplomatic broker of a ceasefire and settlement, through its “peace plan”. While it is unlikely this will progress, given Putin’s refusal to withdraw from occupied Ukrainian territory, China’s call for recognition of “sovereignty” — Ukraine’s as well as Russia’s — keeps some distance between it and Putin’s invasion.
See also Ukraine War, Day 367: A China Peace Initiative?
Beijing also has not crossed the red line — for the US, Europe, and other countries — of lethal military assistance to the Russians.
The two leaders set out their positions in articles in each other’s media on Sunday.
In his column for a Chinese newspaper about his “good friend” Xi, Putin did not try to bounce Beijing from its public position of diplomatic broker:
We are grateful for the balanced line of [China] in connection with the events taking place in Ukraine, for understanding their background and true causes. We welcome China’s willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the crisis.
Writing for the Russian outlet Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Xi gave no sign of a military alliance with Moscow against Kyiv. Instead, he called for “pragmatism” and declared that China’s 12-point plan is “as much as possible the unity of the world community’s views”.
However, China has given Russia some salvation from the economic consequences of the invasion, including international sanctions. Beijing now provides more than 40% of Russia’s total imports, including raw materials and computer chips.
Chinese imports of Russian oil rose by 8% last year, and imports of gas increased by 50%, according to Russian State producer Gazprom.