Varying reports about ‘spring offensive’ • Belgium is investigating arms deployment in Russia

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In this live blog you can read the most important developments surrounding the war in Ukraine.

‘Messages about Ukrainian offensive are diversion’

Reports that Russia has repelled a major Ukrainian offensive in the Donetsk region are “a diversionary tactic”, according to a Ukrainian deputy defense minister. The Russian Ministry of Defense reported this morning that Russian troops had destroyed 16 Ukrainian tanks and 21 armored vehicles, and that 250 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed, but that message was not confirmed by the Ukrainian side.

Ukrainian Deputy Minister Hanna Maliar now writes on Telegram that Ukrainian troops are carrying out attacks along some parts of the frontline, but that there is no sign of a larger, coordinated offensive. “Why are the Russians spreading information about a counter-offensive? Because they have to divert attention from the losses in the vicinity of Bachmut.”

In an audio message this morning, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russia’s Wagner group, says Ukrainian troops have captured part of the eastern Ukrainian town of Berchivka north of Bachmut. The vicinity of Bachmut is still the ‘epicenter’ of the conflict, according to the Ukrainian deputy minister.

Kremlin: mobilization speech in border region was not real

The Kremlin has released a statement about a radio speech that appeared to be President Putin’s, but was not. The radio message, which said that Ukrainian troops were crossing the border and a national mobilization had begun, was the result of a hack, the Kremlin says, according to Russian media.

“All these reports are completely bogus,” state news agency RIA quoted a Kremlin spokesman Peskov as saying. The announcement of the mobilization was broadcast in Rostov, Belgorod and Voronezh in Russia. The message was accompanied by an appeal to residents to move deeper into Russia.

Kyiv denies sending Ukrainian troops into Russia. The attacks on Russian territory are the work of Russian partisans, according to Ukraine.

Wagner group: Ukrainians conquer north of Bachmut

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner group, reports that Ukrainian troops have taken part of the eastern Ukrainian town of Berkhivka north of Bachmut. His mercenary army had taken the place by the end of February.

Last month, the Wagner group captured nearby Bachmut after months of bloody fighting, after which the Russian army took over the town. Since then, Ukrainian forces have launched numerous attacks on targets near Bachmut, including Berchivka.

“Now part of the Berkhivka settlement has already been lost. The troops are running away quietly. A disgrace!”, Prigozhin responds in an audio message distributed through his own press service. He calls on Defense Minister Shoigu and Army Chief Gerasimov – two leaders with whom he has been at odds for months – to come to the front. “Come on, you can do it. And if you can’t, you will die like heroes,” he challenges them.

CNN: Ukraine has saboteur network in Russia carrying out drone attacks

Ukraine maintains a network of sympathizers who can sabotage Russian targets and carry out drone attacks from Russia. CNN reports this on the basis of sources with knowledge of US intelligence. The US would see these pro-Ukrainian saboteurs as responsible for the drone attack on the Kremlin in early May. CNN does not mention other recent attacks or acts of sabotage.

According to CNN, the Americans know that the saboteur cells consist of pro-Ukrainians who are well trained to carry out such actions. They are said to have used Ukrainian-made drones so far. There would be no evidence that American drones were also used.

How Ukraine got the drones into Russia is not entirely clear. There would be smuggling routes that Ukraine uses to get drones or drone parts across the border. A European intelligence source tells the American news channel that the border between the two countries is huge and that smuggling between Russia and Ukraine has been commonplace for years. “And you have to remember that this is the Russian periphery. Survival is a problem for everyone here, so money gets you a lot done.”

It is also not known under whose control the pro-Ukrainian pawns in Russia are exactly. The Americans believe that “elements within the Ukrainian intelligence services” are involved. As far as is known, President Zelensky has set the services a number of limits within which they can operate. He therefore does not have to personally give the green light for every operation.

Belgium is investigating whether Belgian weapons have been deployed in Russia

Belgium is going to ask Ukraine for clarification about reports of Belgian weapons deployed on Russian territory. The Belgian Ministry of Defense and the Belgian intelligence services are investigating whether Belgian weapons have been used by Russian anti-Kremlin groups, Prime Minister De Croo announced on Radio 1 of the Flemish public broadcaster VRT.

Last weekend, The Washington Post reported that in an attack in the Russian region of Belgorod, these anti-Kremlin fighters used vehicles that Ukraine had received from the US and Poland. They would also have used weapons supplied by Belgium and the Czech Republic.

De Croo says that Belgium would “take it seriously” if the reporting is correct, because it would be contrary to the conditions set for arms deliveries. “European weapons are supplied to Ukraine on the condition that they be deployed on Ukrainian territory, with the aim of defending that territory,” he said.

The Belgian prime minister calls this “precisely one of the reasons why European countries have been careful with the supply of weapons”. De Croo does not want to speculate about possible consequences for Ukraine. “But we are analyzing the situation and would take this very seriously.”

Russian field commander and military blogger: precisely Ukrainian success

The Russian field commander Aleksandr Chodakovsky strikingly contradicts the success stories of the Russian Defense Ministry about repulsing a Ukrainian offensive. He said Ukrainian troops had “put together a fist” in the west and achieved “tactical success”.

“They took one position from us, but they suffered tangible losses,” said Chodakovsky. “Now the enemy is trying to reinforce its presence at the breakthrough, obviously with the aim of taking even more territory.” The Russian field commander does not think this attack is part of the long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive, but he reckons that a successful breakthrough could be the start of more.

In addition to Khodakovsky, a Russian military blogger also expresses concern about the Ukrainian struggles. The situation on the frontline near Voehledar, in Donetsk, is becoming “more alarming by the hour,” writes Russian war blog War Gonzo, which has more than 1.2 million followers. War Gonzo writes that “sources confirm Chodakovsky’s words” and that Ukraine “had some success in a morning attack”.

These claims cannot yet be independently verified. Ukraine previously said it was silent about the offensive, so as not to make Moscow wiser than necessary. Russia, conversely, has reason to drown out any speculation about the start of the Ukrainian offensive with reports of heavy Ukrainian losses.

Ukraine reports fighting in Donetsk, says nothing about Russian claim

In the daily update of the Ukrainian army command this morning, there is no mention of a major offensive in Donetsk. The Russian army claims to have repulsed a major offensive there yesterday and to have killed some 250 Ukrainian soldiers.

The Ukrainian army command reports as many as 29 battles in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Across Ukraine, 15 airstrikes were carried out against Russian troops yesterday, according to the leadership. Ukraine also intercepted six enemy drones and attacked several command posts, weapons depots and air defense systems.

Neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian claims can yet be independently verified.

Russia: major Ukrainian offensive repelled

Russian forces repelled a major Ukrainian offensive in the Donetsk region yesterday, the Russian defense ministry said. Some 250 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, the ministry claims. The news has not been independently confirmed.

The ministry writes in a statement on Telegram tonight that the large-scale offensive was launched yesterday morning in the south of the Donetsk region. Six battalions of armored infantry and two tank battalions of the Ukrainian army are said to have been involved.

According to the Russian ministry, 16 Ukrainian tanks and 21 armored vehicles were destroyed, among other things. It is unclear whether the alleged Ukrainian attack marks the beginning of the long-awaited spring offensive, Reuters writes.

Russian Defense Minister Shoygu

Captured Russian soldiers in Belgorod to be extradited to Ukraine

A group of pro-Ukrainian Russian rebels says they will hand over captured Russian soldiers to Ukrainian authorities. The group made the announcement in a video message.

The soldiers are said to have been captured during fighting in the Russian region of Belgorod, on the border with Ukraine. The video from the Russian Volunteer Corps shows a group of at least twelve men, according to the rebel Russian soldiers.

The rebels previously claimed to have captured two Russian soldiers. They wanted to release them if they could speak to the governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov. They say they are now backing down because the governor would not have kept the appointment to meet them.

New live blog

Welcome to the new live blog about the developments surrounding the war in Ukraine. You can read last week’s live blog here.

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