Ukraine likely staging 'tactical withdrawal' in Bakhmut; Russian mercenary chief's rift with officials deepens
This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on March 6, 2023. See here for the latest updates.
The status of the besieged city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine is unclear after conflicting reports at the weekend over how much of the city was controlled by Russian forces, and whether Ukrainian forces were starting to withdraw from parts of the city.
A Ukrainian commander of troops in Bakhmut said on Telegram Sunday that there were "no decisions or orders regarding retreat" and that "the defense is holding" in the city but also characterized the situation in Bakhmut and its outskirts as "very much like hell."
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War think tank said Sunday that Ukrainian forces appear to be conducting a "limited tactical withdrawal" in Bakhmut, however, although they noted that "it is still too early to assess Ukrainian intentions concerning a complete withdrawal from the city."
The ISW noted that "Ukrainian forces are unlikely to withdraw from Bakhmut all at once and may pursue a gradual fighting withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare."
One ship leaves Ukraine under Black Sea Grain Initiative
One ship carrying 6,300 metric tons of sunflower oil left Ukraine's Yuzhny-Pivdennyi port, the organization overseeing the export of agricultural products from the country said.
The ship is destined for Turkey. Over the weekend nine ships carrying wheat, soy beans, sunflower meal and corn departed for Yemen, Bangladesh, China, Turkey, Libya and Kenya.
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 700 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports.
— Amanda Macias
UN says at least 8,170 killed in Ukraine since start of war
The United Nations has confirmed 8,173 civilian deaths and 13,620 injuries in Ukraine since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor a year ago.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay fatality reports.
The international organization said most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, as well as missiles and airstrikes.
— Amanda Macias
Zelenskyy thanks German Chancellor Scholz's political party for continued support to Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's political party for its "comprehensive support" of his war-weary country.
Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel that he met with the Social Democratic political party leaders, Lars Klingbeil and Rolf Mutzenich, and reiterated that he is "grateful to Germany for its comprehensive support for our country since the first days of full-scale Russian aggression."
"I am particularly grateful for sheltering more than a million forcibly displaced persons from Ukraine, for leading the formation of the tank coalition by providing German Leopard tanks, and for contributing to the protection of Ukrainian skies by transferring the highly effective IRIS-T air defense system," he added, according to an NBC News translation.
— Amanda Macias
New interactive map tracks changes in force posture on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, published a new interactive map of the battlefield in Ukraine.
The map, which was produced by the Washington-based think-tank's Transnational Threats Project, shows a timeline of how the force disposition and front lines have changed over the past year.
Take a look at the new tool here.
— Amanda Macias
Ukraine's representative at UN warns that Russia is slated to lead Security Council next month
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine's permanent representative to the United Nations, urged the international forum to prohibit Russia from holding its scheduled one-month presidency over the Security Council.
Kyslytsya raised the issue on Twitter by saying the saddest day in U.N. history will be when Russia presides over the Security Council on April 1, a handful of weeks after the one-year anniversary of Moscow's full-scale invasion.
Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, which is based in New York City and serves as the U.N. arm tasked with maintaining peace and security. Russia also holds veto power in the Security Council, which can hamper any decision-making in regard to supporting Ukraine.
— Amanda Macias
IAEA chief reiterates calls for security zone around Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that the security situation near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has intensified.
"Over the past few weeks there has been an increasing security presence at the site," IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said during a board of governor's meeting in Vienna, Austria.
"There is open discussion about offensives and counter-offensives in the vicinity of the site," he added.
Grossi added that a security protection zone should be set up around the Zaporizhzhia facility, Europe's largest nuclear power plant.
"My simple question is: are we waiting for a nuclear emergency before we react?" he added.
— Amanda Macias
Ukraine's state nuclear power company warns Russians are making lists of items to steal from Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant
Ukraine's state nuclear power company Energoatom said Russian forces at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are marking equipment around the facility to take.
"Russian occupiers are calculating probable exit scenarios from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and marking equipment that can be stolen from the station," the company wrote on its official Telegram channel, according to an NBC News translation.
The plant, Europe's largest nuclear power plant, was captured last March and has remained under the control of Russian forces.
— Amanda Macias
Kremlin does not deny Syrian president may visit Putin
The Kremlin did not rule out the potential visit of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"As you know, we announce international visits only at the set time, not earlier. And we won't do it now, especially since there are certain safety rules," Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
"Therefore, we are never in a hurry with announcements. We will let you know everything in due time," he added, according to an NBC News translation.
Assad has been a staunch ally of Moscow and most recently has publicly supported Putin's war in Ukraine.
On the heels of Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Assad described the Russian offensive as a "correction of history."
— Amanda Macias
Czech company produces inflatable weapon decoys
A Czech company is manufacturing inflatable weapon decoys such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems or HIMARS, rocket launchers to be used on the battlefield in Ukraine to befuddle Russian forces.
Inflatech Decoy says that its profits have soared since Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year. Inflatech, based in the northern Czech city of Decin, was founded eight years ago and makes more than 30 types of inflatable weapons.
A similar tactic was used by Allied forces during the Second World War.
The U.S. Army hired actors and artists to form its "Ghost Army," a team that specialized in illusion tactics that would work to misdirect Nazi firepower. The WWII unit created several phony inflatable tanks and weapons to spread disinformation about the strength and location of Allied forces.
— Michal Cizek | AFP | Getty Images
Ukraine's army chief says the defense of Bakhmut should continue
The head of Ukraine's armed forces told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the defense of Bakhmut, a besieged city in Donetsk that Russia claims to have effectively surrounded, should continue.
Zelenskyy held a meeting with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny and Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of forces in Bakhmut, specifically focused on the situation and "they spoke in favor of continuing the defensive operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut," the president's office said in a statement Monday.
Russia has been slowly advancing on, and surrounding, Bakhmut for weeks although fighting near and around the city has been going on for around seven months with both sides determined to capture and defend the industrial city, respectively.
Russia is seen to want to capture Bakhmut, which has been severely destroyed in the fighting, as a way to cut Ukrainian supply lines in the east, and sees it as a launchpad on to bigger cities like Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
Ukrainian analysts have downplayed the significance of Bakhmut, saying that even if the city falls into Russian hands the course of the war won't be changed. Both sides have committed so much manpower to the fight there, however, that neither side wants to capitulate.
Defense analysts at the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War believe Ukraine is beginning to conduct some kind of "limited tactical withdrawal" in Bakhmut, however, and is looking to inflict as many losses on Russian forces as it can during the process
— Holly Ellyatt
Russia's defense minister visits occupied port city of Mariupol
Russia's Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu visited the Russian-occupied port city of Mariupol Monday, according to the country's Ministry of Defense.
Shoigu traveled to Mariupol, which is located on the Sea of Azov, to inspect what the ministry said was reconstructed infrastructure. Russia has occupied Mariupol since last May following a prolonged and bloody siege and bombing campaign that destroyed much of the city's buildings and infrastructure, and killed at least a thousand civilians, according to a conservative estimate by the UN.
The defense ministry said Shoigu visited a medical center as well as a new residential area composed of 12 five-story buildings and added that schools and kindergartens were also under construction.
Images released by the ministry showed Shoigu dressed in camouflage as he inspected the new facilities.
Reports suggest Russia has been trying to erase evidence of war crimes in Mariupol that took place during several months of bombing on the city, as well as erasing any signs of Ukrainian history and culture —changing street names, for example, and introducing the Russian curriculum in schools.
— Holly Ellyatt
Russia's February car sales down 62% year-on-year, says AEB
Car sales in Russia collapsed by 62.1% year-on-year in February, the Association of European Businesses (AEB) said on Monday, as Western sanctions continued to cause problems for the industry.
The AEB said 41,851 vehicles had been sold during February, compared with 110,441 vehicles in February 2022.
Russia's auto industry has been one of the hardest-hit sections of the economy following the imposition of Western sanctions last year after Moscow ordered its troops into Ukraine. Car sales collapsed by 58.8% last year, according to the AEB, which surveys Russian car manufacturers.
The industry had previously been heavily reliant on Western investment, joint partnerships, supply chains and parts - all of which remain seriously disrupted.
Wagner Group chief says army HQ has barred his representative
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia's mercenary force the Wagner Group, said Monday that one of his representatives was denied access to the headquarters of Russia's "special military operation."
Prigozhin said on his business' Telegram channel that he'd written to the commander of the "special military operation," as Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine, about the "urgent need to allocate ammunition" to Wagner units fighting in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
Then, Prigozhin said, on Monday morning "my representative at the headquarters had his pass canceled and was denied access to the group's headquarters," according to a Google translation of his comment.
The Wagner Group founder said his units "continue to smash the Armed Forces of Ukraine near Bakhmut." But at the weekend, Prigozhin claimed that his fighters were being deprived of ammunition and that if they had to retreat from Bakhmut, the whole front line would collapse.
Wagner forces, made up of mercenary fighters and men recruited from Russian prisons who are fighting in return for an early release from jail, have made slow but steady progress in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Fighting is particularly intense in Bakhmut, with Prigozhin claiming last Friday that his forces have "practically surrounded" the city.
Prigozhin has previously openly criticized Russia's military leaders, however, creating a significant rift between Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry and Kremlin.
— Holly Ellyatt
Fall of Bakhmut would not mean Russia has changed tide of war, Pentagon chief says
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday that the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was of more than symbolic importance than an operational one and it would not necessarily mean that Moscow had regained the momentum in its year long war effort.
"I think it is more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value," Austin told reporters while visiting Jordan, adding that he would not predict if or when Bakhmut would be taken by Russian forces.
"The fall of Bakhmut won't necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight," Austin added.
Donetsk in eastern Ukraine comes under heavy shelling
A school in Kramatorsk was among the buildings hit and destroyed during missile strikes on Donetsk in eastern Ukraine last night, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration.
Posting on Telegram this morning, Kyrylenko detailed towns and settlements that had been hit in Donetsk overnight.
"At night, the Russians launched a missile strike on Kramatorsk and destroyed a school," he said, noting that there were no known casualties as yet. Meanwhile, shelling on Vuhledar also injured one person while several apartments and houses, as well as an administrative building and a cultural institution, were damaged in the village of Dachne.
"In Avdiivka, shelling continued throughout the night on the old and central parts of the city — without casualties," he said.
Elsewhere, one person died near the city of Horlivka and three were injured in Bakhmut, the epicenter of fighting in Donetsk, and buildings were damaged in several other settlements. CNBC was unable to immediately verify the information in the post.
In a military update Thursday, Ukraine's armed forces said Russia was focusing its main offensive actions on Donetsk, saying that in the last 24 hours, Ukraine's soldiers had fought back over 95 attacks in the area, stating in an update that Russia continued to conduct "strikes, bombard civilian objects and homes, attempting to destroy our nation's critical infrastructure." Russia insists it does not target civilian objects.
— Holly Ellyatt
Most of Ukraine's winter grain crops in good condition, scientists say
Most of Ukraine's winter grain crops - winter wheat and barley - are in good condition and could produce a good harvest, Ukraine's academy of agricultural science was quoted as saying on Monday.
"The analysis of the viability of winter wheat ... showed that the vast majority of plants - 92% to 97%, depending on the predecessor and sowing date - were in relatively good condition," the APK-Inform consultancy quoted a report by the academy as saying, despite Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine is a traditional grower of winter wheat which accounts for around 95% of the country's overall wheat output, and key for both local consumption and exports.
"There are good reasons to make preliminary forecasts for the formation of yields that will be close to the average long-term average," the report said.
The scientists say the reserves of productive moisture in the soil under winter crops remained "quite significant and did not cause concern". The winter wheat area sown for the 2023 harvest decreased to around 4.1 million hectares from more than 6 million sown a year earlier because of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year.
Of the winter wheat sown last year, only 4.9 million hectares were harvested in Ukrainian-controlled territory, as Russian forces occupied some areas. Ukraine's wheat harvest declined to 20.2 million tonnes in 2022 from 32.2 million tonnes in 2021. Overall grain output fell to around 54 million tonnes from a record 86 million in 2021.
A top agriculture ministry official told Reuters on Thursday that the 2023 wheat crop could total 16 to 18 million tonnes but Ukraine saw no need to limit wheat exports for the upcoming 2023/24 July-June season.
Russia turning to 'vintage' battle tanks and other vehicles to make up for losses
The Russian military has continued to respond to heavy armored vehicle losses by deploying 60-year-old T-62 main battle tanks, according to the latest intelligence update from Britain's Ministry of Defense.
"There is a realistic possibility that even units of the 1st Guards Tank Army, supposedly Russia's premier tank force, will be re-equipped with T-62s to make up for previous losses," the ministry said on Twitter Monday.
It added that the 1st Guards Tank Army had previously been due to receive the next-generation T-14 Armata main battle tank from 2021.
"In recent days, Russian BTR-50 armoured personnel carriers, first fielded in 1954, have also been identified deployed in Ukraine for the first time" and noted that, since summer 2022, approximately 800 T-62s have been taken out of storage. Some have received upgraded sighting systems which will highly likely improve their effectiveness at night, the ministry noted.
"However, both these vintage vehicle types will present many vulnerabilities on the modern battlefield, including the absence of modern explosive reactive armour," the U.K. said.
— Holly Ellyatt
Status of besieged Bakhmut unknown as 'tactical withdrawal' could be taking place
The status of Bakhmut is unclear after conflicting reports at the weekend over how much of the city was controlled by Russian forces, and whether Ukrainain forces were starting to withdraw from parts of the city.
Volodymyr Nazarenko, a commander of Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut, said on Telegram Sunday that there were "no decisions or orders regarding retreat" and that "the defense is holding" in the city but also characterized the situation in Bakhmut and its outskirts as "very much like hell, as it is on the entire eastern front."
But analysts at the Institute for the Study of War think tank said Sunday that Ukrainian forces appear to be conducting a "limited tactical withdrawal" in Bakhmut, although they noted that "it is still too early to assess Ukrainian intentions concerning a complete withdrawal from the city."
The ISW said Ukrainian forces may be withdrawing from their positions on the eastern bank of the Bakhmutka River that dissects the city's eastern flank. But it added that while Russian sources claim their forces have captured eastern, northern, and southern parts of Bakhmut, and claim to be reporting from positions in eastern Bakhmut, it could not independently verify those claims.
The think tank noted, in any case, that it believes the "Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut remains strategically sound as it continues to consume Russian manpower and equipment as long as Ukrainian forces do not suffer excessive casualties."
"Ukrainian forces are unlikely to withdraw from Bakhmut all at once and may pursue a gradual fighting withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare," the ISW added.
Last Friday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia's mercenary force the Wagner Group, claimed his fighters had "practically surrounded Bakhmut" but also called for more ammunition for his units, saying "if Wagner retreats from Bakhmut now, the whole front will collapse," signalling Wagner was experiencing more tensions with Russia's defense ministry following criticism of defense officials by Prigozhin.
— Holly Ellyatt
Russian troop withdrawal is the basis for peace talks, German chancellor says
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Sunday that a complete Russian withdrawal from Ukraine would be the foundation needed for any future peace talks.
"To my view, it is necessary that Putin understands that he will not succeed with his invasion and his imperialistic aggression and that he has to withdraw troops. This is the basis for talks," Scholz said in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria that aired Sunday.
"There will be no decisions without the Ukrainians," Scholz added.
Acknowledging that the war in Ukraine appears to have settled into a period of stalemate, with Russian forces seeing some gains in the Donbas in the east of the country, Scholz said that it was still "very difficult to judge what will be the next things to happen in Ukraine."
"But there is something which is absolutely clear: We will continue to support Ukraine with financial, humanitarian aid but also with weapons," he said.
Scholz, like U.S. President Joe Biden, has said Germany will support Ukraine "for as long as it takes" but Berlin has been criticized for procrastinating over giving Kyiv weapons, particularly the Leopard 2 tanks that it had asked for for months.
Berlin finally agreed to sending Kyiv tanks in January and allowed other countries with German-made tanks to do the same but it ruled out sending fighter jets to the country.
— Holly Ellyatt