Ukrainians wait for Russians to ‘shoot each other’ as internal rift widens; Xi, Zelenskyy reportedly to talk: Live updates

Written by on March 13, 2023

Ukrainian servicemen said on social media video they are holding positions in war-battered Bakhmut waiting for Russians to “shoot each other” as the war of words between the Russian Defense Ministry and a Russian mercenary leader intensifies, a think tank reports.

The assessment from the Institute for the Study of War said Russian military leadership may be allowing the mercenary Wagner Group to take high casualties in Bakhmut to erode its leader’s leverage while preserving Russian army troops. 

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has publicly complained that the Defense Ministry has been increasingly restricting his ability to recruit convicts and secure ammunition. Plus, the assessment says Prigozhin likely anticipated that Ukrainian forces would withdraw from Bakhmut. Instead, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy doubled down, rejecting suggestions that his military strategically allow the city to fall. 

“Putin and the Russian MoD may use Prigozhin as a scapegoat for the costly drive on Bakhmut once the offensive culminates,” the assessment says.

INFIGHTING:Wagner mercenaries struggle in Bakhmut: Ukraine updates


►India will abide by the $60 per barrel sanction cap on Russian oil, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter. India has become a major buyer of Russian oil since the war began. Crude oil currently sells for about $75 a barrel.

►The International Criminal Court will open two war crimes cases and seek several arrests tied to the Russian invasion, The New York Times reported, citing current and former officials with knowledge of the decision. They would be the first international charges filed since the war began.

►Russia’s legislature is considering a plan to raise the military draft ages to 21-30 from 18-27 over the next three years. Enlistment would remain legal for those 18 who still want to enlist.

►Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny learned Monday from his lawyer that a film detailing his poisoning and political activism won the Oscar for best documentary feature. There was no word on Navalny’s reaction.

►Russian officials negotiating with U.N. representatives said they are planning to extend by two months an agreement that allows Ukraine grain shipments safe passage through a Russian blockade.

A member of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner and former criminal prisoner sits in the interrogation room after being captured by Ukrainian soldiers near Bakhmut on March 12, 2023.

Xi, Zelenskyy reportedly to meet virtually

Chinese leader Xi Jinping plans to meet virtually with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the first time since the start of the war, likely after Xi visits Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people the publication said were familiar with the matter.

The visit and remote chat reflect Beijing’s effort to play a more active role in mediating an end to the war, the Journal reported.

Putin and Xi have appeared to grow closer in the year since the war began, although China has dismissed as untrue reports in the U.S. that  Xi’s government is considering supplying Russia with badly needed arms.

Mercenary group recruiting from Russian high schools

The restrictions on recruiting fighters from Russian prisons for his mercenary outfit have prompted Prigozhin to focus on free citizens, including high school students, the British Ministry of Defense said in an update

The Wagner Group recruiters have recently given career talks and distributed questionnaires headlined “Application of a young warrior” in Moscow high schools, the ministry said. It’s a highly dangerous career path, considering about half the convicts Wagner has deployed in Ukraine have become casualties, according to the ministry.

The new strategy probably won’t make up for the loss of formerly incarcerated fighters, the ministry said, adding: “If the ban (on recruiting prisoners) endures, Prigozhin will likely be forced to reduce the scale or intensity of Wagner operations in Ukraine.”

Ukrainians who came to U.S. fleeing war can stay longer

Thousands of Ukrainians who fled to America when the war started in February 2022 will get an extension on their one-year authorization to remain in the U.S., the Biden administration said Monday.

The Department of Homeland Security said the extension is for certain Ukrainians and their immediate family members who were let into the U.S. before the start of the Uniting for Ukraine program, which allows for two-year stays.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is allowing thousands of Ukrainians who fled their homeland when Russia invaded a year ago to stay in the United States longer, the administration said Monday. The decision provides relief to Ukrainians whose one-year authorization to remain in the U.S. was set to expire soon.

The Homeland Security Department said the extension is for certain Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family members who were let into the U.S. before the Uniting for Ukraine program started.

Ukrainians who came in under the Uniting for Ukraine program generally got two years of humanitarian “parole” in the U.S. whereas those who arrived before them generally got permission to stay only for one year.

Thousands of Ukrainians came to America last year fleeing the war.

The U.S. government used a program called humanitarian parole to admit them into the country. That program is a way to allow people from other countries to enter the United States on an emergency basis due to an urgent humanitarian situation. But it is usually for a finite amount of time, like a year or two years, and must be renewed for people to stay longer.

Kherson region sets curfew amid sabotage concerns

Kherson regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin announced a curfew from 5 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. from Monday to Friday this week, citing concerns that Russian sabotage teams may have moved into the area. He said the curfew could help prevent casualties among the civilian population during the counter-subversive measures. 

“Help the defense forces,” Prokudin said on Telegram.

Kherson was overrun by Russian forces early in the war but was liberated in November. Russian forces who retreated across the Dnieper River have continuously shelled the region from there. Ukraine officials estimate that about half the population, which once approached 300,000, has fled.

Ukraine breaks up cash smuggling ring

Ukraine’s Security Service says it has broken up a transnational cash smuggling ring and seized more than $1 million at a checkpoint on the Romanian border. The money was stolen from the territories occupied by Russia and may have been targeted to finance Russian agents in Ukraine, the security service said.

Five participants were exposed in the scheme that tried to bring cash to the Chernivtsi region under the guise of tourists on a bus. Some of the cash was hidden in suitcases and some was wrapped around a suspect’s body, the security service said.

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