Ukraine Says It Has Defeated Russia’s Attempt To Inflict Wintertime Pain
As the calendar turned to March, Ukraine contended Wednesday that it has dealt Russia a major defeat, overcoming Moscow’s weeks-long barrage of attacks that targeted Ukrainian electrical and water systems to damage them and inflict maximum pain on Ukrainians during the depths of winter.
“On March 1, 2023, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin suffered another major defeat,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “Despite the cold, darkness, and missile strikes, Ukraine persevered and defeated his winter terror.”
“Furthermore,” Kuleba wrote, “Europe has not ‘frozen’ despite Russian predictions and mockery” as Western countries allied with Ukraine curbed their purchase of Russian fuel for homes and businesses. “I thank our partners for standing with Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, the fight for the eastern city of Bakhmut raged on. Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Kyiv has sent reinforcements to Bakhmut, even as Russian forces have gradually strengthened their position there. But she did not say how many troops were being deployed or how they would be used — whether as fighters to defend the city or possibly as logistical support if Ukraine decides to retreat.
The death toll at Bakhmut has been staggering for both sides. Ukraine has held on, but Russia’s troop reinforcements have allowed it to seize villages and towns around the city and surround it on three sides.
In his nightly address Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “The most difficult situation is still Bakhmut and the battles that are important for the defense of the city. The intensity of fighting is only increasing.” It was the second consecutive night he had given a Bakhmut battlefield assessment.
On Monday, he said, “The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions, to gain a foothold and ensure defense.”
Much of the Russian fighting in and around Bakhmut has been conducted by troops from the Wagner Group, a mercenary paramilitary force whose leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has close ties to Putin.
On Wednesday, Prigozhin said in an audio message on social media that there was no sign that Ukrainian forces were retreating from the city.
Ukraine’s economic adviser, Alexander Rodnyansky, told CNN on Tuesday that Russia is trying to encircle Bakhmut, using their best and “most well-trained and the most experienced” troops from the Wagner Group.
“Our military is obviously going to weigh all of the options,” he said. “So far, they have held the city but, if need be, they will strategically pull back because we are not going to sacrifice all of our people just for nothing.”
On the diplomatic front, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed doubt Wednesday about how serious Russia and China are about achieving peace in Ukraine, citing a lack of substantive steps by either country to back up statements showing support for a peace effort.
Speaking during a visit to Uzbekistan, Blinken told reporters that if Russia were genuinely prepared to engage in meaningful diplomacy to end its aggression, then the United States would be quick to engage in that effort. But he said Russia’s actions, including Putin’s demands that Ukraine recognize Russia’s control over parts of Ukrainian territory, show Russia is not interested in that path.
“The real question is whether Russia will get to a point where it is genuinely prepared to end its aggression and do so in a way that is consistent with the United Nations charter and its very principles,” he said.
“No one wants peace more urgently than the people of Ukraine. They are the victims every single day of Russia’s aggression,” Blinken said. “We all know the simple truth that the war could end tomorrow, it could end today, if President Putin so decided. He started it, he could stop it.”
Blinken said a peace proposal put forward by China does contain some positive elements, including some found in Zelenskyy’s own peace plan.
Blinken noted that if China were serious about its call for the sovereignty of all nations to be upheld, however, then it would have spent the past year working in support of Ukraine’s full sovereignty in the face of Russia’s invasion.
He said China has done the opposite, including advancing Russian propaganda about the war, blocking for Russia at international organizations and contemplating sending lethal military assistance for Russian forces to use in Ukraine.