US and Russia keep their distance at G-20 summit amid heightened tensions

With tensions higher than ever between the US and Russia, both countries appear to be keeping their distance as the Group of 20 (G-20) summit takes place in New Delhi on Thursday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday he has no plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the summit, which comes after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered a second year last month.

Relations between the United States and Russia further deteriorated in recent weeks after President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was suspending its participation in the New START nuclear arms control treaty, the last remaining arms deal between Moscow and Washington.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov move to their seats ahead of the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 21, 2022.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs | via Reuters

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it was not surprising that a meeting would not take place on the sidelines of the G-20 ministerial meeting.

“In my opinion, the position of the United States was clearly and long ago indicated. They are in favor of escalation of conflicts basically around the world, diplomacy, unfortunately, they, apparently, were relegated to the background,” Zakharova told reporters. This was reported by the Interfax news agency on Thursday.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday called on her Russian counterpart to return to full implementation of the New START nuclear arms control treaty.

—Holly Ellyatt

The situation “critical” in Bakhmut as analysts question the strategy of withdrawal

Russian forces appear to be tightening the noose around the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, raising questions in Ukraine about whether a withdrawal of Ukrainian forces must be seriously considered.

Russian standard units and mercenaries belonging to the Wagner group have been slowly advancing on the industrial city in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, and reports indicate that roads into the city are now cut off.

Both Russia and Ukraine have thrown lots of manpower and equipment into capturing, and defending, Bakhmut, respectively. But with Russian forces closing in on the city, Ukrainian military analysts are now openly questioning whether a tactical withdrawal should take place before it’s too late.

“I think sooner or later we will probably have to leave Bakhmut. It makes no sense to keep it at all costs,” Ukrainian MP Serhiy Rakhmanin said on NV radio late on Wednesday in comments translated by Reuters.

No defense lines should be allowed to collapse, Rakhmanin said, according to the news agency. “There are two ways to approach this – an organized retreat or simple flight. And we cannot allow flight under any circumstances,” he said.

Local residents walk on a street as the sound of shelling continues in Bakhmut on February 27, 2023.

Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

Meanwhile, Ukrainian military analyst Oleg Zhdanov said in a YouTube post that “there is a danger that our garrison in Bakhmut will be surrounded,” and assessed the situation as “critical,” Reuters reported.

“The enemy is trying to cut off the roads used to supply our forces in Bakhmut and stop all movement along them,” he said. “The Russian forces cannot win street battles in Bakhmut or take the city by attacking head-on. The only way they can take the city is to surround it.”

Ukraine’s military said on Thursday morning that in the past 24 hours its forces had repelled more than 170 enemy attacks in the Bakhmut area and surrounding settlements “where Russian troops are focusing efforts and conducting active offensive operations”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week that his forces were under “insane pressure” and said the fighting around Bakhmut was intensifying by the day. Both sides claim to inflict hundreds of casualties on each other daily.

—Holly Ellyatt

US Attorney General Calls Russian Mercenary Leader a ‘War Criminal’

Ukrainian soldiers work with an SPG on the Donbas frontline, in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on January 16, 2023.

Diego Herrera Carcedo | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

US Attorney General Merrick Garland called Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, a “war criminal”.

“Mr Prigozhin, who is running this case, is in my opinion a war criminal and it might be inappropriate for me to say as a judge before I get all the evidence, but I think we have more than enough evidence at this point to I’m supposed to feel that way,” Garland testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

During questioning then pointed. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on the bipartisan measure sponsored by himself, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I., and Lindsay Graham, RS.C., the committee’s ranking member, to declare the group a foreign terrorist organization. The Wagner group is responsible for a deadly attack on the Donbas region of Ukraine and for using prisoners as cannon fodder, according to Garland.

“It is simply unfathomable what they are doing and anything we can do to stop them we should do,” he said.

—Chelsey Cox

Hungary’s president urges lawmakers to ratify Finland and Sweden for NATO membership

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a joint press with the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland after their meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on January 24, 2022.

John Thys | AFP | Getty Images

Hungarian President Katalin Novak urged lawmakers on Wednesday to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO entry “as soon as possible,” as lawmakers began debating the motions after months of bills stalling in parliament.

“It is a complex decision, with serious consequences, so careful consideration is necessary,” Novak said on Facebook.

“My position is clear: in the current situation, the accession of Sweden and Finland is justified. I trust that the National Assembly will make a wise decision as soon as possible!”

– Reuters

Zelenskyy vows to bring “every murderer, terrorist and torturer” to justice

A war crimes prosecutor looks on as a police officer enters an underground air raid shelter believed to be used as a prison by Russian occupation forces during a search for evidence of war crimes on October 15, 2022 in Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine.

Carl Court | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to bring “every murderer, terrorist and torturer” to justice.

“We will hold the terrorist state fully responsible for its genocidal war,” Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel. according to a translation by NBC News.

“Every murderer, terrorist and torturer will be brought to justice. Historical justice will be restored. Life and Ukraine will prevail,” he added.

Russia has previously said its troops in Ukraine are not deliberately targeting civilians or committing war crimes.

— Amanda Macias

Russia won’t join New START unless US changes ‘behaviour’, official says

A man wearing a military uniform with the letter Z, a tactical sign for Russian troops in Ukraine, takes a selfie photo on Red Square in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in central Moscow on February 13, 2023.

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Russia will not rejoin the New START nuclear arms control treaty unless the United States changes its stance on Ukraine, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last month that Moscow was suspending its participation in the treaty, which imposes controls on nuclear weapons production in both the US and Russia, declaring that Washington had to show “political will” and “make conscientious efforts” for a general de-escalation of tensions .

“Until the United States changes its behavior, until we see signs of common sense in what it is doing in relation to Ukraine… we see no chance that the decision to suspend START will be reviewed or reconsidered,” Ryabkov said. according to comments to Russian news agency Interfax as translated by Google.

Russia stressed that the suspension was reversible, and Ryabkov said on Wednesday that discussions on the treaty were being conducted through closed channels for now.

—Holly Ellyatt

Russian mercenary leader says Ukraine is putting up “fierce resistance” in Bakhmut

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and close ally of Vladimir Putin, heads Russia’s Wagner mercenary group and a number of other companies.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

The head of the Russian mercenaries, who have been fighting for months to capture Bakhmut and the surrounding settlements, said on Wednesday that Ukraine is fiercely resisting Russian efforts to completely encircle and capture the Donetsk city.

The founder of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, denied several Russian reports suggesting that Ukrainian security forces had been ordered to withdraw from Bakhmut, saying that on the contrary, Ukraine was throwing everything it could muster into defending Bakhmut, a city that Russia calls “Artemivsk” or “Artemovsk.”

“The armed forces of Ukraine in Artemivsk are adding additional reserves and trying with all their might to keep the city. Tens of thousands of soldiers of the Ukrainian army are fiercely resisting, the bloodshed of the battles is increasing every day.” Prigozhin said in a statement reported by the Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Prigozhin’s forces, made up of regular mercenaries and men recruited from Russian prisons who were offered a reprieve in exchange for fighting in Ukraine, have been credited with slow, incremental advances by Russian forces in Donetsk in recent weeks.

Unlike some Russian military officials, Prigozhin has not played down the capabilities of Ukraine’s fighters, and he has been openly critical of the Russian Defense Ministry’s strategies in Ukraine, ruffling feathers back in Moscow.

Holly Ellyatt

Bakhmut is not yet completely surrounded, but the Russians are closing in

An aerial view of the destruction in Bakhmut on February 27, 2023. Russian forces appear to tighten the noose around the city in Donetsk.

– | Afp | Getty Images

Russian forces continue to pound Bakhmut on Wednesday but have not completely surrounded the city, according to Reuters.

The news agency noted on Wednesday that it was still able to reach Bakhmut from the west on Monday, saying it was “evidence that the city was not yet surrounded despite Russian forces pushing from the north and south to close the last remaining routes in.”

According to Reuters, flames and smoke rose into the sky from burning buildings, and the sound of gunfire and explosions peppered the air. Ukrainian armored vehicles roared through the streets, it was noted, while stray dogs wandered in the mud and destruction that caused the former industrial city.

Several thousand civilians remain in the city despite the relentless fighting around them, which has been going on for more than six months. Russia has thrown thousands of troops into the fighting around Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk it is determined to capture in an attempt to cut Ukrainian supply lines to the east.

In an update on Facebook on Wednesday morning, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces “do not stop storming the city of Bakhmut” but said Ukraine’s forces continue to fight back.

—Holly Ellyatt

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