Biden to meet with EU's von der Leyen; U.S. says China has not given Russia weapons

This has been CNBC's live blog covering updates on the war in Ukraine. [Follow the latest updates here.]

An aerial view of destruction in Bakhmut on Feb. 27, 2023. Russian forces appear to be tightening the noose around the city in Donetsk.
- | Afp | Getty Images

Russia and Ukraine locked horns on Thursday following Moscow's accusation that a Ukrainian sabotage group had crossed the border into Russia's Bryansk region and had fired at civilians and taken some hostage in one village.

Ukraine rejected the accusations, accusing Russia of a "deliberate provocation" but also claiming anti-government Russian partisans were behind the attack.

Back in Ukraine, Russian forces appear to be tightening the noose around the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk, prompting military analysts in Ukraine to question whether a tactical withdrawal by Ukrainian forces must be seriously considered now.

Standard Russian units and mercenary fighters belonging to the Wagner Group have been slowly advancing on the industrial city in eastern Ukraine since the start of the year, although fighting has been taking place around Bakhmut for seven months. Reports increasingly suggest routes into the city are being cut off as Russian forces encircle it.

In other news, Group of 20 foreign ministers are meeting in India on Thursday, with Ukraine dominating the agenda despite India's attempts to steer the summit toward other issues. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke "on the move" at the meeting in India, Russia's foreign ministry said, but did not hold any further talks or negotiations.

Russian envoy says nuclear powers may clash over Ukraine

A senior Russian diplomat warned that increasing Western support for Ukraine could trigger an open conflict between nuclear powers.

Speaking at the U.N. conference on disarmament, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov denounced the U.S. and its allies for openly declaring the goal of defeating Russia in a "hybrid" war, arguing that it violates their obligations under international agreements and is fraught with the war in Ukraine spilling out of control.

Ryabkov warned that "the U.S. and NATO policy of fueling the conflict in Ukraine" and their "increasing involvement in the military confrontation is fraught with a direct military clash of nuclear powers with catastrophic consequences."

He emphasized that Russian President Vladimir Putin's move to suspend the 2010 New START treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms pact with the U.S. came in response to the U.S. and NATO action on Ukraine.

— Associated Press

China has not yet provided Russia with weapons for the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, White House says

John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council, answers questions during the daily press briefing at the White House on March 2, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Win Mcnamee | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The White House said it has not yet seen China supply Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine.

"We haven't seen the Chinese make a decision to move in that direction," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said when asked about any potential weapons transfers.

"Ultimately it's their choice to make," Kirby added, declining to elaborate on potential U.S. retaliatory actions.

— Amanda Macias

Italian Prime Minister urges India's Modi to play key role in ending Ukraine war

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization leaders' summit in Samarkand on Sept. 16, 2022. "Today's era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this," Modi said to Putin in a televised meeting.
Alexandr Demyanchuk | Afp | Getty Images

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni urged India to play a central role in facilitating negotiations to end Russia's war against Ukraine.

India, with the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 industrialized and developing countries, could represent the needs of less-developed nations in such a process, Meloni said in a statement following talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

She condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and underscored its adverse impact on developing countries in terms of food and energy security.

"India may play a central role in facilitating a negotiating process for cessation of hostilities" in Ukraine, Meloni said.

Modi reiterated his cautious stand by reaffirming that peace can be achieved only through diplomacy and dialogue, saying, "India is ready to support a peace initiative in that direction."

So far, India has refrained from directly criticizing Russia's invasion. The two have been allies since the Cold War era, and New Delhi depends on Moscow for nearly 60% of its defense equipment. India has increasingly scooped up Russian oil since the invasion a year ago, initially facing scrutiny from the U.S. and other allies over its growing purchases. That pressure has since waned. India has continued to abstain from voting in U.N. resolutions that condemn Russia's war against Ukraine.

— Associated Press

Cindy McCain tapped to lead the World Food Program

Cindy McCain speaks onstage during the U.S.VETS Salute Gala on November 05, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
FilmMagic | Getty Images

Cindy McCain will become the new executive director of the United Nations world Food Program, Secretary-General António Guterres and Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Qu Dongyu announced.

McCain succeeds David Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, who held the role for six years. McCain is currently the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome.

"McCain, a champion for human rights, has a long history of giving a voice to the voiceless through her humanitarian and philanthropic work," a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.

McCain is the widow of John McCain, the longtime U.S. senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

— Amanda Macias

EU Commission president to meet with Biden next week, White House says

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen at the European Council Building in Brussels, on December 21, 2022.
John Thys | Afp | Getty Images

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden will welcome President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission next week. 

"The leaders will review the strong cooperation between the United States and the European Union to support Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and democracy and to impose costs on Russia for its aggression," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wrote in a statement.

"The leaders will take stock of the joint Task Force on Europe's Energy Security that they established one year ago, which has helped the EU reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels and accelerate its green transition," Jean-Pierre added of the upcoming March 10 visit.

Biden and von der Leyen are also expected to discuss security challenges posed by China.

— Amanda Macias

Six ships left Ukraine’s port under Black Sea Grain Initiative

A cargo ship loaded with grain is inspected in the anchorage area of the southern entrance to the Bosphorus in Istanbul, on Oct. 31, 2022.
Ozan Kose | AFP | Getty Images

Six ships carrying about 249,290 metric tons of grain and other food products left Ukraine's Chornomorsk port, the organization overseeing the export of agriculture from the country said.

Two of the vessels are carrying wheat and barley and are destined for Turkey, and another two ships are loaded with sunflower meal and corn and will sail to China. The remaining ships are headed to Spain and Belgium.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered in July among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, eased Russia's naval blockade and saw three key Ukrainian ports reopen.

So far, more than 770 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports.

— Amanda Macias

Kidsave Ukraine launches 'Flat Sasha' project to raise donations for children in the war-weary country

Flat Sasha visited MSNBC's television studios in Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2023.
Amanda Macias | CNBC

Kidsave Ukraine, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children affected by Russia's war, launched a new project dubbed Flat Sasha to raise awareness about the need for financial support for its ongoing work in the war-weary country.

"Flat Sasha represents a 12-year-old orphan displaced from their home in Mykolaiv due to the war, like so many other children in the country. Flat Sasha can be printed out, colored in and decorated. Once you've created your Flat Sasha, we encourage you to hang them up in your school, office, home, car, or bring them along with you on a brand new adventure," wrote Kidsave Ukraine in a statement.

Financial donations are used to supply families with food, medicine, shelter, fuel and counseling services. Funds also support Kidsave's efforts to rebuild Ukraine by training volunteers and staff on trauma therapy.

Flat Sasha has met Ukraine's Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova in Washington, D.C., and traveled to see the St. Louis arch, Mt. Rushmore and even Kyiv.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. Joint Chiefs Chair Milley speaks with Ukrainian counterpart and reaffirms 'unwavering support'

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley looks on during a press conference after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group during a two-day meeting of the alliance's Defence Ministers at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels on February 14, 2023.
Kenzo Tribouillard | Afp | Getty Images

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, the Pentagon said in a brief readout of the call.

"They discussed the unprovoked and ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and exchanged perspectives and assessments. The chairman reaffirmed unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," U.S. Army Col. Dave Butler said in a statement.

— Amanda Macias

More than 7 million children in need due to Russia's war in Ukraine

A man holds a child as he flees a Ukrainian city, on March 7, 2022.
Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

The U.N. Children's Fund, or UNICEF, said that more than 7 million children in the regions near Ukraine are in critical need due to Russia's war in Ukraine. Of those, more than 4 million children are in need inside Ukraine.

A little over 3 million children are in need in refugee response countries, according to data collected by the United Nations.

UNICEF wrote in a report that so far more than 3.35 million children and caregivers were provided with access to mental health and psychosocial support. Additionally, nearly 1.5 million children were given access to formal or non-formal education, including early learning. 

— Amanda Macias

At least 20 torture centers in Kherson were planned and directly financed by the Kremlin, international lawyers say in a new report

A calendar marked on a wall in a cell as officers of the War Crimes Prosecutor office and police officers investigate war crimes committed by the Russian occupying forces on the local civilian population in the basements and rooms in Kherson, Ukraine.
Pierre Crom | Getty Images

At least 20 torture centers in the recently liberated Ukrainian city of Kherson have direct financial links to the Kremlin, according to a team of international lawyers helping Ukraine investigate Russian war crimes. 

"Working closely with Ukraine's Office of the Prosecutor General, a paper trail has been exposed that shows that the main torture chambers in Kherson and those administering them do so through the financial support of the Russian state," Wayne Jordash, an international human rights lawyer and managing partner of the law firm Global Rights Compliance, told CNBC.

Jordash adds that the team of lawyers, experts and investigators uncovered that the torture sites were directly managed by several Kremlin security agencies including Russia's Federal Security Services, known as the FSB.

Read the full story here.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine says 'terrorist attack' in Bryansk was carried out by Russian partisans

Ukraine is distancing itself from an incident in Bryansk earlier on Thursday that Russia described as a terrorist attack, with one official saying Russians are fighting President Vladimir Putin's regime from within.

Russian news agencies reported earlier, according to Reuters, that a group of Ukrainian saboteurs had taken hostages in the Russian border region of Bryansk, while the regional governor said one person had been killed after the group fired at a car. Putin called the purported incident a terrorist attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is to deliver his annual address to the federal assembly on Feb. 21.
Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukraine rejected the reports with Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser to the head of the Ukrainian President's Office, saying on Twitter that "the story about sabotage group in RF [the Russian Federation] is a classic deliberate provocation" and added that Russia's partisan movement was "getting stronger and more aggressive."

Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate spokesperson Andriy Yusov told local media outlet and NGO, Hromadske that Russians who opposed Putin's regime were behind the incident, saying "these are people who, with weapons in their hands, are fighting against Putin's regime and against those who support him," according to an NBC translation of the comments.

— Holly Ellyatt

Images show destruction caused by missile attack on Zaporizhzhia

A view of the site as search and rescue efforts continue in the debris of an apartment building after Russian forces launched a missile attack on Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine.

At least four people were killed and eight injured in the attack.. A rocket fired by the Russian military hit a five-story building, the Ukrainian National Police said in a statement.

Ukrainian rescuers on an escalator work on a five-storey residential building destroyed after a missile strike in Zaporizhzhia on March 2, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Katerina Klochko | AFP | Getty Images
A view of the site as search and rescue efforts continue in the debris of building after Russian forces' missile attack, on March 02, 2023 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
Adri Salido | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A view of the site as search and rescue efforts continue in the debris of building after Russian forces' missile attack, on March 02, 2023 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
Adri Salido | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

- Getty Images

Russia says it's seeking to destroy 'terrorists' behind purported Bryansk attack

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks on the phone during a conversation with Agatha Bylkova from the Kurgan region, an 8-year-old participant of a New Year's and Christmas charity event, in Moscow, Russia, January 3, 2023. 
Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Via Reuters

The Kremlin says it is seeking to destroy "terrorists" who it said were behind what it called "an attack by terrorists" on the border region of Bryansk while Ukraine denied responsibility.

Russian news agencies reported earlier that a group of Ukrainian saboteurs had taken hostages in the Bryansk region, Reuters reported, while the regional governor said one person had been killed.

Ukraine rejected the reports with Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser to the head of the Ukrainian President's Office, saying the claims by Russia were a "deliberate provocation."

Meanwhile, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier Thursday that Russia viewed the incident as a terrorist attack. "We are talking about an attack by terrorists. Now measures are being taken to destroy these terrorists," he said, according to comments reported by state news agency Tass.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had received reports from security agencies about the incident, he said, adding that "we are talking about the events that are unfolding in the Bryansk region in connection with an attack by Ukrainian militants."

"The security forces report on the actions that the security agencies ... are taking to counter terrorists," he said.

Earlier this week, Russia accused Ukraine of carrying out several drone attacks on its territory, one of which it said had targeted Bryansk which borders Ukraine, although no damage was done and no one was hurt by the attack, a regional official said. Ukraine has not confirmed it was behind the attacks and, on Wednesday, a Ukrainian official said Kyiv does not strike at Russian territory.

— Holly Ellyatt

Lavrov and Blinken spoke 'on the move' at G-20, Russian foreign ministry says

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (top C) walks past Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (lower) during the G20 foreign ministers' meeting in New Delhi on March 2, 2023.
Olivier Douliery | Afp | Getty Images

Russia's foreign ministry said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke "on the move" at a G20 meeting in India, but did not hold negotiations or a meeting, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday.

A senior U.S. State Department official earlier said the pair had spoken for less than 10 minutes on the margins of the conference.

— Reuters

Russian strike on apartment block in Zaporizhzhia kills at least four people, officials say

Ukrainian rescuers work on the five-storey residential building destroyed after a missile strike in Zaporizhzhia on March 2, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Katerina Klochko | Afp | Getty Images

A Russian missile slammed into a five-story apartment building in the city of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine on Thursday killing at least four people, Ukrainian officials said.

Rescue workers carried away the wounded on stretchers and clambered through the ruined building looking for survivors after the early-morning strike, a Reuters television crew on the scene said.

The upper floors of the apartment block had been destroyed and cars parked nearby had been crumpled. Fallen debris lay around the building. 

"The people were screaming from under the rubble. It was hard to hear. We were shocked," Yuliia Kharytenko, a 36-year-old woman who lives in the apartment block, told Reuters.

"We ran out in whatever we were wearing. Our cat is left there, scared. We don't know if it is alive."

The Ukrainian state prosecutor's office said four people had been killed and eight wounded in the attack. Another five were unaccounted for, it said. Seven of those rescued were being treated in hospital, and three of then were in a serious condition, said Anatoliy Kurtev, a senior city council official.

A man walks past damaged cars next to the five-storey residential building destroyed after a missile strike in Zaporizhzhia on March 2, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Katerina Klochko | Afp | Getty Images

Among those who survived was a 30-year-old man who rescue workers said had been sleeping on a couch at the time of the attack and was trapped under a concrete slab. "For almost three hours rescuers worked to recover him from under the slab. He is alive and well, everything is fine," said volunteer rescue worker Ivan Zdorovets.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the attack in a Facebook post, saying Ukraine would drive out the Russian forces who invaded Ukraine in February last year. Moscow did not immediately comment on the events in Zaporizhzhia. It denies deliberately targeting civilians, but has devastated towns and cities across Ukraine in missile and drone strikes.

— Reuters

Muddy season hits Ukraine ... but could help defending forces

Ukrainian military members attach a wire rope to a pickup truck bogged down in the mud to tow it away on Feb. 26, 2023, in Donetsk, Ukraine.
Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Rising temperatures in Ukraine that are bringing in the country's infamous muddy season are beginning to limit cross-country movement, Britain's Ministry of Defense said Thursday — and that could help Ukraine in defending territory.

Thawing winter temperatures and the ensuing muddy conditions, known as "rasputitsa" in Russian and "bezdorizhzhia" in Ukrainian, are well known in Ukraine and thwarted Russian forces (and often Ukrainian forces too) on numerous occasions last year as they tried to traverse the country's boggy fields and roads early on in the invasion in spring.

The ministry noted that daytime soil temperatures have risen and are now largely above freezing and that warmer than average conditions for the remainder of winter and spring could further reduce cross-country movement.

"Poor CCM [cross country movement] typically provides some military advantage to defending forces," the ministry said in its intelligence update on Thursday.

"It is almost certain that by late-March, CCM will be at its worst following the final thaw. This will add further friction to ground operations and hamper the off-road movement of heavier armoured vehicles, especially over churned-up ground in the Bakhmut sector," an area heavily defended by Ukraine's forces as Russia looks to seize more territory in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Blinken condemns Russia's 'systematic muzzling' of critics at U.N. rights council

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of repressing domestic critics and called on U.N.- mandated investigators to keep documenting Russia's alleged abuses in the Ukraine war in a speech to the Human Rights Council on Thursday.

Blinken described Russia's civil society crackdown as a "systematic muzzling" and also urged U.N.-appointed investigators to continue documenting Russia's Ukraine abuses to provide "an impartial record of what's occurring, and a foundation for national and international efforts to hold perpetrators accountable".

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears on a screen as he delivers a speech during the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 1, 2022.
Salvatore Di Nolfi | Reuters

His video address comes ahead of an expected speech by a senior Russian official Sergei Ryabkov who is due to appear before the same Geneva-based body for the first time since Moscow invaded Ukraine more than a year ago.

— Reuters

If countries help Russia militarily, that will be a problem, Dutch foreign minister says

There will be consequences if countries choose to give weapons to Russia to help it prosecute the war in Ukraine, the Netherlands' Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra told CNBC Thursday.
Yuriko Nakao | Bloomberg | Getty Images

There will be consequences if countries choose to give weapons to Russia to help it prosecute the war in Ukraine, the Netherlands' Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra told CNBC Thursday.

"All others should clearly refrain from helping out Russia militarily, that would be a problem if countries, would cross that bridge ... that will have a consequences if countries go across that line in my opinion," Hoekstra told CNBC's Tanvir Gill.

There have been concerns that China is contemplating giving Russia weapons to help it continue its war in Ukraine, although Beijing has rebuffed those claims. The U.S. has signaled it could impose economic sanctions on China if it does help Moscow.

Speaking to CNBC on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit taking place in New Delhi, Hoekstra refused to be drawn on whether sanctions could be imposed on China but said he was due to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this afternoon at the summit. Ukraine would be discussed, he noted, saying "we all are facing the effects of this tremendous crisis for which Russia, and Russia alone, is responsible."

For his part, Blinken has said he has no plans to meet his Russian and Chinese counterparts at the meeting.

Asked when he believed the war could end, Hoekstra was pessimistic it could come to a conclusion anytime soon.

"I think we have to be realistic here. All of us would want to have a peace on Ukrainian terms, ASAP, but the reality might well be that, that this war will stay with us for a very long time," he said.

"Just bear in mind that the Russians waged war for nine years in Afghanistan, that they were decades in Eastern Europe. So what I'm saying to the public at home, I would I would like to convey to you as well, we have to be prepared for the long run. And as long as is necessary, we will continue to help out Ukraine."

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. and Russia keep their distance at G-20 summit amid heightened tensions

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

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

Relations between the U.S. and Russia soured further 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 treaty between Moscow and Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov move to their seats before their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 21, 2022.
Russian Foreign Ministry | via Reuters

Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said it wasn't surprising that a meeting wouldn't 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 the escalation of conflicts in principle around the world, diplomacy, unfortunately, they, apparently relegated to the background," Zakharova told reporters, news agency Interfax reported Thursday.

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

— Holly Ellyatt

Situation 'critical' in Bakhmut as analysts question withdrawal strategy

Russian forces appear to be tightening the noose around the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk, prompting questions in Ukraine over whether a withdrawal by Ukrainian forces must be seriously considered.

Standard Russian units and mercenary fighters belonging to the Wagner Group have been slowly advancing on the industrial city in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks and reports suggest routes into the city are now being cut off.

Both Russia and Ukraine have thrown masses of manpower and equipment into capturing, and defending, Bakhmut, respectively. But given Russian forces are 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 believe that sooner or later, we will probably have to leave Bakhmut. There is no sense in holding it at any cost," Ukrainian member of parliament Serhiy Rakhmanin said on NV radio late on Wednesday in comments translated by Reuters.

No lines of defense should be allowed to collapse, Rakhmanin said, according to the news agency. "There are two ways to approach this — an organised retreat or simple flight. And we cannot allow flight to take place under any circumstances," he said.

Local residents walk down a street as the sounds of shelling continue in Bakhmut on Feb. 27, 2023.
Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

Meanwhile, Ukrainian military analyst Oleg Zhdanov said in a post on YouTube that "there is a danger that our garrison in Bakhmut will be encircled," assessing the situation as "critical," Reuters reported.

"The enemy is attempting to sever the routes used to supply our forces in Bakhmut and halt 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 Thursday morning that over the past 24 hours, its forces had repelled more than 170 enemy attacks in the area of Bakhmut and surrounding settlements "where Russian troops are focusing efforts and conducting active offensive operations."

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week that his forces were under "insane pressure" and said battles around Bakhmut were intensifying day by day. Both sides claim that they are inflicting hundreds of losses on each other on a daily basis.

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. Attorney General calls Russian mercenary leader a 'war criminal'

Ukrainian soldiers work with a SPG on the Donbass frontline, in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on January 16, 2023.
Diego Herrera Carcedo | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland called Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, a "war criminal."

"Mr. Prigozhin, who runs this thing, is in my view a war criminal and maybe that's inappropriate for me to say as a judge before getting all the evidence, but I think we have more than sufficient evidence at this point for me to feel that way," Garland testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

During questioning, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., pointed to the bipartisan measure sponsored by himself, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.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's just unfathomable what they are doing and everything we can do to stop them, we should do," he said.

— Chelsey Cox

Hungarian President urges lawmakers to ratify Finland and Sweden for NATO membership

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talks speaks during a joint press with Sweden and Finland's Foreign ministers after their meeting at the 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 deputies started debating the motions after months of the bills being stranded in parliament.

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

"My position is clear-cut: in the present situation, the accession of Sweden and Finland is justified. I trust 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 that was believed to be used as a prison by Russian occupying 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 accountable for its genocidal war," Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel, according to an NBC News translation.

"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 do not deliberately target civilians or commit war crimes.

— Amanda Macias

Russia won't rejoin New START treaty unless U.S. changes 'behavior,' official says

A man wearing military uniform with a Z letter, a tactical insignia of Russian troops in Ukraine, makes a selfie photo at Red Square in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in central Moscow on February 13, 2023.
Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Russia won't rejoin the New START nuclear arms control treaty unless the U.S. 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 puts controls on the nuclear arms production of both the U.S. and Russia, stating 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 they are doing in relation to Ukraine ... we see no chance for the decision to suspend START to be reviewed or re-examined," Ryabkov said, according to comments to Russian news agency Interfax that were translated by Google.

Russia stressed that the suspension was reversible and Ryabkov said Wednesday that discussions on the treaty are being conducted through closed channels currently.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian mercenary leader says Ukraine putting up 'fierce resistance' in Bakhmut

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, claimed on Saturday that his mercenary fighters captured Bakhmut after nine months of intense fighting there.
Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

The head of Russia's mercenary troops, who have been fighting for months to capture Bakhmut and surrounding settlements, said Wednesday that Ukraine is putting up fierce resistance to Russian efforts to fully encircle and capture the city in Donetsk.

The founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, denied several Russian reports suggesting Ukrainian security forces had received an order to retreat from Bakhmut saying that, on the contrary, Ukraine was throwing everything it could muster to defend Bakhmut, a city that Russia calls "Artemivsk" or "Artemovsk."

"The Armed Forces of Ukraine in Artemivsk are adding additional reserves and are trying with all their might to keep the city. Tens of thousands of soldiers of the Ukrainian army are putting up fierce resistance, the bloodshed of the battles is increasing every day," Prigozhin said in a statement reported by Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Prigozhin's forces, made up of standard mercenary fighters and men recruited from Russian jails who were offered a reprieve in return 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 downplayed the abilities 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 not yet fully surrounded but Russians are closing in

An aerial view of destruction in Bakhmut on Feb. 27, 2023. Russian forces appear to be tightening the noose around the city in Donetsk.
- | Afp | Getty Images

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

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

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

Several thousands of civilians remain in the city despite the relentless fighting around them, which has been going on for more than half a year. Russia has thrown thousands of troops into the fighting around Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk that it is determined to capture in a bid to rupture Ukrainian supply lines in the east.

In an update on Facebook 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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