May 24. 2024. 5:43

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Bakhmut battle intensifies as international court ‘prepares war crimes cases against Russia’

Kyiv and Moscow said their forces were engaged in heavy fighting for the ruined city of Bakhmut, amid reports that Chinese president Xi Jinping may visit Russia and speak to Ukraine’s leader next week as Beijing seeks to become a key mediator in the conflict.

The Kremlin said on Monday it saw no chance at present for a negotiated end to the war, as speculation grew that the International Criminal Court is preparing to charge Russian officials over crimes allegedly committed in Ukraine, which may include genocide.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukrainian ground forces, said “the situation around Bakhmut remains difficult” after weeks of artillery exchanges and gunbattles between Kyiv’s troops and Russia’s powerful Wagner mercenary group.

“Wagner’s assault units are advancing from several directions, trying to break through the defences of our troops and advance to the central districts of the city. In the course of fierce battles, our defenders inflict significant losses on the enemy. All enemy attempts to capture the city are repelled by artillery, tanks and other firepower,” he said.

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Bakhmut battle intensifies as international court ‘prepares war crimes cases against Russia’

Bakhmut battle intensifies as international court ‘prepares war crimes cases against Russia’

Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who said 10 days ago that Bakhmut was “practically surrounded” and urged Ukraine to abandon it, described conditions in the nearly flattened road and rail hub as “very difficult, with the enemy fighting for every metre”.

“The closer we are to the city centre, the fiercer the battles get and the more artillery and tanks are used against us. The Ukrainians are supplying endless reserves. But we are moving forward and will continue to move forward,” he said.

[ Kyiv seeks increased supplies of ammunition as it defends Bakhmut ]

Each side claims to be killing and injuring hundreds of the enemy each day as they not only fight for control of Bakhmut but aim to blunt their adversary’s capacity to mount a major spring offensive.

Kyiv says it will not contemplate any end to the war except full liberation of all its sovereign territory, and Moscow insists that Ukraine must accept Russian control over Crimea and four of its other regions before talks can begin.

“For us, the absolute priority continues and will always be the achievement of the goals set. At the moment, they can only be achieved by military means,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, referring to Russia’s territorial claims and its demand that Ukraine, a pro-western democracy, be “denazified” and abandon its Nato membership hopes.

“So far, there are no preconditions for the transition of the process to a peaceful path,” Mr Peskov added.

He declined to comment on a report from Reuters that Mr Xi might visit Moscow as soon as next week, as China deepens ties with the Kremlin and also seeks to become a broker for a potential diplomatic resolution of the Russia-Ukraine war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

The Wall Street Journal said Mr Xi would also speak to Mr Zelenskiy next week, probably after his meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Beijing unveiled a broad-brush ceasefire proposal for Ukraine last month, while at the same time facing accusations from the United States that it was considering plans to supply arms to Russia.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court are preparing for the first time to launch war crimes cases and issue arrest warrants for Russian officials over their country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to Reuters and the New York Times.

They reported that the cases would focus on the alleged mass abduction by Russia of Ukrainian children, and repeated Russian attacks in recent months on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, which cut electricity, heat and water supplies to many regions for long periods during winter. A source told Reuters that the charges would probably include genocide.