SVE NEWS & FRANCE24.COM Sharing Series — Russia replaces military commander in Ukraine in latest reshuffle


Moscow’s army chief of staff Valery Gerasimov, pictured here with President Vladimir Putin in December 2022, will be in charge of running Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. © Sputnik via Reuters

Russia again replaced its top commander in Ukraine on Wednesday, putting army chief of staff Valery Gerasimov in charge of its forces in the conflict, as fighting continued to rage for control of the eastern salt-mining town of Soledar. Earlier, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said during a visit to Kyiv that his country was ready to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine “within the framework of an international coalition”. Follow our blog to see how the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

04:50am: Ukraine response should be ‘replicated’, HRW urges governments

Human Rights Watch on Thursday hailed the international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, urging governments to show the same concern for civilians caught up in other conflicts.

“Amongst the fog of war and the darkness that we have seen in this war in Ukraine, there has been a shining light,” the US-based NGO’s acting executive director, Tirana Hassan, told AFP in London.

“That has been the international response and the commitment to international justice,” she said as HRW released its annual report on rights worldwide.

02:01am: Fate of Ukraine’s Soledar uncertain as Wagner claims control

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that fighting was still raging in a key eastern frontline city that a Russian mercenary group earlier said it controlled, as Moscow announced a new military commander in Ukraine.

The fate of Soledar in eastern Ukraine was uncertain after Russian group Wagner claimed it controlled the gateway town — but the Kremlin cautioned against declaring victory prematurely.

And in his daily address, Zelensky insisted the front was “holding”.

“The terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend” to have achieved some successes in Soledar, Zelensky said, “but the fighting continues”.

10:05pm: Ukraine says Soledar holding out against Russian assaults

The fate of the salt-mining town still hangs in the balance as Kyiv says its forces are holding out against a furious and unrelenting Russian onslaught.

Reporting from the Ukrainian capital, FRANCE 24’s Astrig Agopian talks us through the strategic and symbolic importance of Soledar.

8:45pm: Ukraine seeks long-range missiles, tanks to win war ‘by end of 2023’

Ukraine can win the war this year if it receives more Western weapons, particularly long-range missiles and heavy tanks, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak has argued in an interview with AFP, warning that the war will otherwise grind on “for decades”.

“Only missiles with a range of more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) will allow us to significantly accelerate the de-occupation of our territories,” he told AFP in an interview.

The United States last year supplied Ukraine with missile systems with a range of around 80 kilometres that were credited with turning the tide of the conflict in Kyiv’s favour on several fronts. Kyiv has also recently received similar French systems.

Ukraine is now putting pressure on Washington to deliver US ATACMS missiles, which boast a range of around 300 kilometres. Such systems would allow Ukrainian forces to target Russian arms depots deep inside Ukrainian territory controlled by Moscow but currently out of range of the weapons in Kyiv’s arsenal.

7:55pm: Conflicting claims over who controls embattled town of Soledar

Russia’s paramilitary Wagner group has again claimed its forces are in control of the eastern salt-mining town of Soledar, a claim disputed by Ukrainian officials.

FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Commentator Douglas Herbert tells us more about the battle for the town and its vast network of tunnels.

7:15pm: Zelensky dismisses Russian claims over Soledar, says fighting continues

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has mocked Russian claims to have taken over parts of the eastern city of Soledar, saying that fighting was still going on.

Russian mercenary group Wagner on Tuesday claimed it had taken full control of Soledar but that fighting continued in the city centre.

“The terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend that part of our town of Soledar … is some sort of a Russian possession,” Zelensky said in a video address. “But fighting continues. The Donetsk theatre of operations is holding.”

In a separate statement on Facebook, the general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said the Russians were suffering heavy losses as they tried to take Soledar and cut off the supply routes for pro-Kyiv units.

5:15pm: Russia, Ukraine discuss ‘humanitarian corridor’ at talks in Turkey

Russia and Ukraine have discussed the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” during rare talks in Turkey, during which they also agreed a new prisoner swap.

Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets met his Russian counterpart Tatyana Moskalkova on the sidelines of an international conference in Ankara attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The two commissioners expressed a common demand – to open a humanitarian corridor under the auspices of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, similar to the grain corridor,” said Turkish rights ombudsman Seref Malkoc, who helped mediate the meeting.

Erdogan later told the international conference that he was “ready” to oversee a “corridor for the wounded”.

5:05pm: Russia promotes Gerasimov in military shake-up

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has appointed Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov as commander of the combined forces group for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Announcing the appointment, the defence ministry said the changes were designed to increase the effectiveness of managing military operations in Ukraine, more than 10 months into a campaign Moscow still refers to as a “special military operation”.

Gerasimov, like Shoigu, has faced sharp criticism from pro-war military bloggers for Russia’s multiple setbacks on the battlefield.

>> Read more: Devastating strike on Russian military base in Ukraine exposes ‘gross criminal incompetence’

Russia had promoted Sergey Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon” for his reputed ruthlessness, to be its top battlefield commander only last October following a series of Ukrainian counter-offensives that turned the tide of the conflict. Surovikin will remain as a deputy of Gerasimov, the defence ministry said.

3:55pm: Poland willing to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Poland is ready to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine that Kyiv requested, Polish President Andrzej Duda has announced on a visit to the eastern Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Warsaw is willing to deliver the tanks “within the framework of an international coalition”, Duda said after meeting his Ukrainian and Lithuanian counterparts.

Germany, which makes the Leopard tanks, has so far resisted pressure from Kyiv to deliver the armoured vehicles.

3:20pm: ‘Neither side appears to be in full control of Soledar’

Russian and Ukrainian forces are still engaged in fierce fighting over the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine – a stepping stone in Moscow’s push to capture the entire Donbas region – with the Russians appearing to have the upper hand.

The Russian mercenary group Wagner, which has spearheaded the assault, on Tuesday claimed to have taken control of the small salt-mining town, but Ukraine says its forces are still holding out.

FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg, who visited Soledar’s salt mines before the war, tells us more.

2:55pm: US tanks arrive at Dutch port to bolster NATO borders

A large number of US army tanks and military vehicles have begun arriving at the Dutch port of Vlissingen, before heading to Poland and Lithuania as part of efforts to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank.

“There’s about 1,250 pieces of military equipment coming into this port,” said Col. Robert Kellam, overseeing the operation on the US side.

The equipment includes M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, of Fort Hood, Texas.

Dutch armed forces are helping with marine security and guarding the port area where the vehicles will be housed before they continue east.

1:12: Ukraine must ‘be ready’ for threats coming from Belarus border, Zelensky says

Ukraine must “be ready” at its border with Russian ally Belarus even though it sees only “powerful statements” coming from its neighbour, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday.

Zelensky made his comments after visiting the Lviv region, where he discussed border protection and the security situation in northwestern Ukraine.

Kyiv has warned that Russia may try to use Belarus to launch a new ground invasion of Ukraine from the north. Zelensky made no reference to such warnings in comments on the Telegram messaging app after taking part in what he described as a coordination meeting on security matters in the Lviv region.

“We discussed state border protection, the operational situation on the border with the Republic of Belarus, and counter-subversive measures in these territories,” he said.

“We understand that apart from powerful statements, we do not see anything powerful there, but nevertheless we must be ready both at the border and in the regions.”

Zelensky’s office released footage of Zelensky at the coordination meeting, and said the president also took part in a ceremony honouring the memory of Ukrainian soldiers killed in battle following Russia’s invasion last February.

Zelensky did not refer on Telegram to fighting under way in eastern Ukraine, where the Ukrainian military has denied losing control of the town of Soledar in fierce combat.

11:31am: Russian army says battle for Ukraine’s Soledar continues

The battle for Ukraine‘s Soledar is ongoing, the Russian army said Wednesday, after an earlier claim by Moscow’s mercenary Wagner Group that its fighters took control of the town.

“Assault squads are fighting in the city,” the Russian army said in a statement. It added that its forces “blocked Soledar from the northern and southern areas of the city” and that its air force was striking “enemy strongholds”.

11:22am: Russia and Ukraine agree on prisoner exchange, Russian official says after Ankara meeting

Russia and Ukraine have agreed on an exchange of 40 prisoners of war, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said on Wednesday after meeting her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Lubinets in Turkey.

Moskalkova and Lubinets met on the sidelines of an international ombudsman conference in Ankara. Photos showed them sitting on opposite sides of a table.

The initial talks lasted for some 40 minutes. A second round began at 09:20 GMT.

Earlier, Moskalkova had said on the Telegram messaging app that she and Lubinets had discussed humanitarian assistance for citizens of both Russia and Ukraine.

They were later expected to visit the Turkish presidential palace, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to make a speech for the conference at 11:30 GMT.

A Turkish source said Moskalkova and Lubinets might discuss a humanitarian corridor and the situation of children who had fled the war in Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine have conducted numerous prisoner swaps – most recently on Sunday – in the course of the war, which is now in its 11th month.

10:41am: Ukraine military says fierce fighting under way in Soledar

Russian forces are not in control of the Donetsk town of Soledar and fierce fighting is under way, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern command said.

10:31am: Kremlin says ‘let’s not rush’ to declaration of victory in Soledar

The Kremlin said Wednesday it was important not to “rush” to declare victory in Soledar, hours after Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group claimed it had seized control of the town in eastern Ukraine.

“Let’s not rush. Let’s wait for official announcements,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that there was a “positive dynamic in advances” in Soledar, and saluting the “heroism of our fighters”.

9:56am: Kyiv denies Wagner group claim that its forces have taken Soledar

Kyiv denied Wednesday that forces from the Russian mercenary Wagner group had taken the town of Soledar in east Ukraine, whose capture would pave the way for further gains in Donbas.

“Soledar was, is and will be Ukrainian,” the strategic communications branch of the Ukrainian military said in a statement, saying pictures released by the Wagner group that Russian media said were taken in Soledar had been taken elsewhere.

9:40am: Battle for Soledar has both symbolic and military value for Russia and Ukraine

Almost all the salt sold in Ukraine until recently came from the Donetsk region town of Soledar, reports FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg. Salt has also been exported from there to Russia “in very large quantities” in the past.

“The assessment is that 95 percent of the salt (in the mine) has not yet been extracted,” Cragg said. “So potentially, it is in some way an economic prize.”

However, the battle for the town may carry more symbolic and military significance for Russia and Ukraine.

“For the Russians, taking control of at least some locality that’s bigger than a village at this stage could perhaps be a very big boost for their morale,” Cragg said. “For the Ukrainians, it’s symbolically important to resist, it’s important to hold Soledar in order to keep on holding Bakhmut.”

9:10am: Ukraine says its forces have not lost control of eastern town of Soledar

Ukraine is saying that its forces have not lost control of the small eastern salt-mining town of Soledar, reports FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg.

“[Ukraine’s] deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said yesterday that areas were changing hands all the time, the situation was fluid,” Cragg said.

“There was this picture that emerged showing some Russian combatants, apparently members of the Wagner mercenary group, apparently in the centre of Soledar, but the Ukrainians have said that they do not, the Russians, have control of the whole of the town.”

7:06am: Battle continues for key Ukrainian town of Soledar

The battle for the eastern Ukrainian salt-mining town of Soledar raged in sub-zero temperatures on Wednesday, as Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group claimed it had taken control, with its fighters training their fire on a pocket of resistance in the town centre.

“Wagner units took control of the entire territory of Soledar. A cauldron has been formed in the centre of the city in which urban fighting is going on,” Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said late on Tuesday, according to Russian news agencies.

Prigozhin’s comment that fighting continued in Soledar’s centre suggested Russian control was incomplete, despite his statement that all of the town was in Wagner’s grasp.

The Ukrainian military’s morning summary made one mention of Soledar, listing the town as one of several being shelled in the Donetsk region.

Ukraine said earlier its forces were still holding onto positions in Soledar, withstanding assaults by wave after wave of Russian forces seeking their first battlefield victory for months. Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar on Tuesday evening said that fighting for the town was still raging.

“The enemy disregards the heavy losses of its personnel and continues to storm actively,” she said. “The approaches to our positions are simply strewn with the bodies of dead enemy fighters. Our fighters are bravely holding the defence.”

Russia’s capture of Soledar and its huge salt mines would have symbolic, military and commercial value for Russia. But the situation in and around Soledar appeared fluid.

FRANCE 24 is unable to verify the claims.

Morning temperatures in the combat zone were put at around minus 12 Celsius (10.4 F).

10:33pm: Russia hits Ukraine’s Kharkiv hours after German minister visits

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Russian strikes hit the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv late Tuesday, the regional governor said, just hours after a surprise visit by the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock together with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

“Stay in the shelters. The occupiers are bombing again!” Kharkiv regional Governor Oleg Synegubov warned on Telegram. An AFP journalist heard several explosions in the city.

9:33pm: Ukraine says need for more weapons is crucial, since Russia plans escalation

The need for the West to supply Ukraine with an increased number of modern weapons is critical because Russia is gathering forces for another escalation, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday.

“The free world has everything necessary to stop Russian aggression and bring about a historic defeat for the terrorist state,” he said in a video address.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)


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Sources from: FRANCE24.COM

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