A Ukrainian soldier walks past graffiti “Bakhmut Loves Ukraine” in the city in the Donetsk region (AP/Libkos)
Wednesday’s Coverage: Russian Fighter Jets Force Down US Drone Over Black Sea
Map: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 2055 GMT:
Polish President Andrzej Duda says Warsaw will deliver four Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in the next few days.
Duda said the first delivery will be of planes inherited from East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He said the MiGs were coming to the end of their combat readiness but are “still in working order”.
He assured more MiG-29s are being serviced and repaired in preparation for delivery.
Poland has 28 MiG-29s which are scheduled to be replaced over the next few years by South Korean FA-50s and US F-35s.
Slovakia, Finland, and the Netherlands have all said they would consider supply of fighter jets to Ukraine as part of an international coalition.
The US and UK have so far held out, saying too much training, ground support, and appropriate runways any needed. However, London has offered to provide air cover for any eastern European country which does make deliveries to Kyiv.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that President Duda’s announcement “doesn’t change our calculus with respect to F-16s. These are sovereign decisions for any country to make and we respect those sovereign decisions.”
UPDATE 2046 GMT:
Mikhail Abdalkin, a Communist Party legislator in the Samara region in southern Russia, has been fined 150,000 rubles ($1,933) for hanging spaghetti from his ears while while watching Vladimir Putin’s February 20 speech to the Russian Parliament.
Abdalkin posted a video of himself, spaghetti included, viewing the speech on his laptop. remotely watching Putin’s state of the nation address last month.
In Russian, “to hang noodles on someone’s ears” refers to being strung along or deceived.
UPDATE 1755 GMT:
Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and senior Chinese diplomat Qin Gang have discussed the Russian invasion in a phone call.
Kuleba posted on Twitter:
During my call with China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang today, we discussed the significance of the principle of territorial integrity. I underscored the importance of @ZelenskyyUa’s Peace Formula for ending the aggression and restoring just peace in Ukraine.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 16, 2023
Qin Gang said, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, “China hopes that all parties will remain calm, rational and restrained, and resume peace talks as soon as possible.”
UPDATE 1328 GMT:
Having lost tens of thousands of fighters on the Ukraine frontline, Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group is advertising on Pornhub, the world’s largest pornographic website.
Those who enter the pornographic site from Russia are welcomed by a Wagner video saying the group is looking for recruits “from all Russian regions”. A woman twirls a lollipop in her mouth as a female voice says Wagner the “coolest fucking private army in the world”.
ЗМІ звернули увагу на те, що ПВК "Вагнер", власником якого є Євген Пригожин, почали рекламувати на популярному порносайті Pornhub (18+). pic.twitter.com/pXfiXq2jrI
— Українська правда ✌️ (@ukrpravda_news) March 15, 2023
Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin endorsed the ad, “Go fight along with Wagner private military campaign, stop masturbating. And who disagrees with that?”
UPDATE 1203 GMT:
The governor of Russia’s Rostov region says that explosions, at a building of the State security service FSB (see 1022 GMT), were caused by an electrical short-circuit.
Vasily Golubev said, “The spreading fire caused explosions of containers with fuel and lubricants. The fire spread over an area of 800 square meters (8611 square feet), resulting in the collapse of two walls.”
The FSB said the partial collapse of the building damaged the border patrol section.
Golubev said one person had been hospitalized with moderate injuries. Emergency services later said one person was killed and two wounded.
UPDATE 1114 GMT:
A Russian court has given a soldier who admitted to war crimes in Ukraine a 5 1/2-year suspended sentence.
The prosecution had asked for six years in prison for Daniil Frolkin, 21, on the charge of spreading “fake news” about the Russian military’s activities in Ukraine.
Frolkin was one of four Russian servicemen identified by the independent outlet iStories last year over robberies, looting, and murder of civilians in the village of Andriivka in eastern Ukraine.
The outlet examined photos of the soldiers taken on a phone stolen from a resident. When it contacted Frolkin, the soldier confessed to the murder of 47-year-old Ruslan Yaremchuk.
I…Frolkin Daniil Andreevich, confess to all the crimes that I committed in Andriivka. To shooting civilians, robbing civilians, confiscating their phone….Our command does not give a fuck about our fighters, about the entirety of the infantry that fights on the front line.
He said he decided to confess to save fellow soldiers who are being sent to the “slaughter” in Ukraine.
A BBC investigation found at least 40 of about 1,000 residents in Andriivka were killed during the Russian occupation that lasted until April.
UPDATE 1104 GMT:
The Pentagon has released the first declassified video images of events leading to Russia’s downing of a US drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday.
The 42-second color video clip shows two high-speed passes by a Su-27 fighter jet which sprays jet fuel on the MQ-9 Reaper drone. On a final pass, one of the two Russian jets collides with the drone, and the camera feed is lost for about 60 seconds.
UPDATE 1051 GMT:
Russia’s latest attacks across the Donetsk in eastern Ukraine have killed a civilian in Bakhmut and injured 11 across the region.
Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Russia struck ten settlements and three communities. More than 25 houses, five high-rises, a school, an educational institution, and cars were damaged.
UPDATE 1022 GMT:
A building belonging to the regional branch of Russia’s State security service FSB is on fire in Rostov in western Russia.
Witnesses heard an explosion just before the blaze.
A Telegram channel is claiming from local sources that the building is a two-story warehouse with an area of 880 square meters. Some reports claim it has an ammunition depot.
Another video from #Rostov-on-Don, where the building of the Border Service of the #FSB is on fire. pic.twitter.com/apEqY4MMue
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 16, 2023
UPDATE 1016 GMT:
Ukrainian soldiers have reportedly downed a Chinese-made drone near the city of Slovyansk in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
The Mugin-5 UAV was launched from Russian-held territory last Friday night and shot down at a low altitude early Saturday.
The Mugin-5 is manufactured by Mugin Limited in Xiamen on China’s east coast. The company confirmed that the downed UAV is their airframe, saying that the incident is “deeply unfortunate”.
The drone, selling for $15,000 on Chinese e-commerce websites, was retrofitted to carry a bomb.
Mugin said that it condemns the use of its products for military purposes and stopped selling to Russia or Ukraine at the start of Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
UPDATE 0954 GMT:
In their latest operation, Ukrainian partisans have assassinated a businessman who collaborated with Russian occupiers in Melitopol in southern Ukraine.
Ivan Tkach was killed by a car bomb on Tuesday. Russian proxyn official Vladimir Rogov said about 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of explosive destroyed the Toyota Land Cruiser.
Tkach reportedly organized transport in Melitopol after its occupation by the Russians in March 2022. In September, he was appointed to direct municipal transport.
The businessman set up transport connections to other Russian-occupied territories such as Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and arranged the movement of Russian troops — including to the frontline — in the Zaporizhzhia region.
UPDATE 0946 GMT:
Russian Education Minister Sergey Kravtsov expects that, by the beginning of the academic year, Russian schools will have a new history textbook for high school pupils with a section on Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Officials in Ukraine and in other countries have said Russia is indoctrinating students, including in occupied areas of Ukraine, with propaganda exalting the invasion and the Russian military.
Russia State media is featuring a video of schoolchildren in occupied Crimea training with rifles and engaging in hand-to-hand combat drills.
“Now, more than 60 people are engaged in martial arts, drill training, including kindergarten students and school children,” said Vladimir Konstantinov, the Russian proxy speaker of the Crimean “Parliament”.
“Children show great interest in activities,” Konstantinov added. The translation also says: “An electronic shooting range was equipped in the institution for conducting shooting classes.”
The Crimean school’s military course is reportedly a pilot program and will be implemented in secondary schools across the country later this year, BBC News Moscow Bureau senior journalist Will Vernon said on Twitter.
UPDATE 0859 GMT:
Hackers linked to the Russian military have targeted and in some cases infiltrated networks of European military, energy, and transportation organizations.
In a report to its customers, Microsoft said the operation went undetected for months. “Fewer than 15” organizations were targeted.
A tip from Ukrainian officials over suspect cyber-activity led Microsoft to discover the hackers’ exploitation of a flaw in the company’s e-mail software between April and December 2022.
Microsoft publicly disclosed the vulnerability on Tuesday, urging customers to update their software.
UPDATE 0843 GMT:
UK military intelligence adds another assessment of a slowing Russian offensive, this time near Vuhledar in the Donetsk region.
The analysts say the diminished assault “follows repeated, extremely costed failed attacks over the previous three months”.
Russia has lost an estimated 130 tanks and other armored vehicles, with the destruction of entire brigades, in the failed offensive on Vuhledar. The town is 148 km (92 miles) southwest of Bakhmut.
The analysts add that the defeat may be in part because of in-fighting in Moscow: “There is a realistic possibility that Russian MoD [Defense Ministry] has been insistent in its drive for success in Vuhledar, partially because it wants its own success to compete with Wagner’s achievements”.
UPDATE 0742 GMT:
The Russian Duma has passed the law punishing “discreditation” of any participants in Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Those convicted of the “discreditation” will be sentenced to up to seven years in prison or up to five years of correctional or forced labor as well as a fine of up to five million rubles ($65,530).
UPDATE 0730 GMT:
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has marked the first anniversary of Russia’s bombing of the Mariupol Drama Theater, which killed an estimated 600 sheltering civilians.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy has posted to Telegram to commemorate the anniversary of a Russian bombing which killed an estimated 600 civilians.
A year ago, Russia deliberately and brutally dropped a powerful bomb on the Drama Theatre in Mariupol. Next to the building was the inscription “Children”, which was impossible to overlook. Hundreds of people were hiding from the shelling there.
Russia destroyed the theater amid its 12-week bombing, ground assault, and siege of the port city in southeast Ukraine. The last Ukrainian defenders surrendered at the end of May, after tens of thousands of people were slain by the invaders.
See also Ukraine War, Day 23: Russia Kills 80+ Civilians; Mariupol Theater Casualties Still Unknown
Step by step, we are moving towards ensuring that the terrorist state is fully held to account for what it has done to our country and our people. We will not forgive a single life ruined by the occupiers. We remember all those whose lives were taken by Russian terror.
UPDATE 0715 GMT:
Moldova, which lies to the west of Ukraine, is no longer receiving gas from the Russian State company Gazprom.
Energy Minister Victor Parlicov said Wednesday evening that Gazprom is only supplying the Transnistria region, occupied by Russia from 1992, since December.
He said Moldova secured European supplies with the help of €300m ($318m) in credits from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The Moldovan Government, including President Maia Sandu and Prime Minister Dorin Recean, and US officials are warning that individuals with ties to Russian intelligence are trying to manufacture a pretext for a coup. On Monday, Moldovan police have detained seven members of a pro-Russian espionage network.
The government in Chisinau has firmly supported Ukraine against Vladimir Putin’s invasion and is seeking closer ties with the European Union.
An internal Kremlin strategy document, obtained by an international coalition of journalists, purportedly sets out the plan to integrate Moldova into the Russian sphere of influence by 2030.
Completed in autumn 2021, the strategy seeks to counter “the attempts of external actors (primarily the United States, the countries of the European Union, the Republic of Turkey and Ukraine) to interfere in the internal affairs of the Republic of Moldova, to strengthen the influence of NATO, and to weaken the positions of the Russian Federation”.
Moldova would join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, Moscow’s answer to the EU, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The plan also assures that “neutralization” of any actions by the Moldovan government to expel the Russian military occupiers in Transnistria.
Journalists showed the document to Moldovan Prime Minister Recean, who responded, “The Russians have tried for a very long time to make sure Moldova does not have sovereignty over its foreign policy.”
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Analysts say Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine is diminishing as its losses of troops, weapons, and equipment mount, particularly in the 10-month assault on the city of Bakhmut.
A Ukrainian military spokesman, Col. Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, said Wednesday that daily Russian ground attacks are now only 20 to 29, falling from 90 to 100.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War concludes that “the Russian offensive operation in Luhansk Oblast is likely nearing culmination, if it has not already culminated”. Russia has committed most elements of at least three divisions to the frontline, but “has made only minimal tactical gains” over the last week. Ukrainian forces have carried out counter-attacks and regained territory.
The ISW says that the Russian attempt to overrun all of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, is also “nearing culmination”. There has been a “markedly decreased number of attacks”, particularly over the last few days.
Has Russia Finally Failed in Bakhmut?
A senior UK miltary advisor, Ian Stubbs, said on Wednesday that Russia has lost up to 30,000 killed and wounded troops and mercenaries in the assault on Bakhmut.
Stubbs told the Security Cooperation Forum in Vienna of “a huge loss of human life for a total territorial advance of approximately just 25 km (15.5 miles). [That is] over 800 Russian personnel killed or wounded for each kilometer gained, the vast majority of them Wagner fighters.”
Russia has suffered huge heavy armored vehicle losses, forcing it to deploy 60-year-old T-62 main battle tanks onto the frontline….More recently, Russian BTR-50 armored personnel carriers have also been deployed in Ukraine, vintage vehicles which were first fielded into the Russian military in 1954.”
Asking “why is Russia’s much vaunted new generation of military hardware absent from the battlefield?”, Stubbs answered, “The truth is that Russia’s over hyped new generation T-14 Armata Main Battle Tank is proving a white elephant, barely capable of taking part in a parade let alone performing on the battlefields of Ukraine.”
Wagner mercenaries have finally occupied the east of Bakhmut. However, Ukrainian forces have reinforced positions in the western part and have blown up bridges over the Bakhmuta River, which runs through open ground in the center of the city. That has made the area a “killing zone” if Wagner attempts a further advance.
Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin has complained that Russia’s Defense Ministry has starved his fighters of ammunition. He has resorted to claims of advances outside Bakhmut. On Wednesday, he declared the capture of the tiny settlement of Zalizianske, 9 km (5.6 miles0 northwest of Bakhmut.
But the ISW notes this “indicates that Wagner forces are likely conducting opportunistic localized attacks on settlements further north of Bakhmut that are small and relatively easier to seize”. Devotion of fighters to those operations “will likely constrain Wagner’s ability to complete a close encirclement of Bakhmut or gain substantial territory in battles for urban areas.”