Russian Defense Chief Makes Rare Visit to Troops

(Bloomberg) —

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Ukrainian forces said Russian troops continued their attempt to cut off Bakhmut. The comment comes a day after Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Russian Wagner mercenary group, released a video saying his units had “virtually surrounded” the eastern Ukrainian city.

The death toll from the Russian rocket attack on an apartment building in Zaporizhia on Thursday rose to 10. US Attorney General Merrick Garland paid an unannounced visit to Lviv on Friday to discuss criminal investigations into Russia’s wartime actions with Ukrainian and European officials.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu paid a rare visit to Russian troops serving in Ukraine, according to a video released by his ministry.

Important Developments

  • In Scholz, Biden praised German military aid to Ukraine

  • The US announces $400 million in ammunition and supplies for Ukraine

  • Russia’s wheat exports are almost twice as high as before the war

  • Putin orders new rules for defense companies in case of martial law

  • Russia receives sanctions to buy key chips for its war

(All times CET)

Russian defense chief on rare visit to Ukraine front (9:30 a.m.)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited troops in Ukraine, the defense ministry said on Saturday, in a rare occurrence for the Kremlin’s top military officials.

Shoigu was shown in video touring a destroyed city, which was not named, being briefed by staff officers and presenting medals to Russian soldiers in the allegedly Ukrainian-held Donetsk region. It is unclear when the visit took place.

The minister and other senior Russian commanders have come under repeated criticism for their handling of the year-long invasion, including from war bloggers and mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Russia Gets Sanctions For Buying Key Chips (9am)

According to a senior European diplomat, Russia appears to be successfully dodging EU and G-7 sanctions to secure vital semiconductors and other technologies for its war in Ukraine.

Russian imports in general have largely returned to pre-war 2020 levels, and analysis of trade data suggests that advanced chips and integrated circuits manufactured in the EU and other allied nations are being exported via third countries such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates be shipped to Russia and Kazakhstan, the diplomat said, pointing to these private assessments.

Read more: Russia gets sanctions to buy key chips for its war

Kyiv eyeing ‘controlled withdrawal from fighting’ from Bakhmut, says ISW (8:30am)

Ukrainian forces “appear to be creating conditions for a controlled withdrawal from fighting from parts of Bakhmut,” US-based military analysts at the Institute for the Study of War said.

Friday’s “preemptive destruction of bridges” suggests that Ukraine is trying to stem Russian movement in east Bakhmut and limit the possible westward advance of Kremlin forces out of the city, ISW said in an update.

“If the Ukrainian military command finds it necessary to withdraw from Bakhmut, it is likely to conduct a limited and controlled withdrawal from particularly difficult sectors of eastern Bakhmut.”

Russia Continues Efforts to Surround Bakhmut, Ukraine Says (7:10 am)

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Russian troops are continuing to try to cut off the city of Bakhmut, the center of bloody fighting since last summer.

In the past 24 hours, Ukrainian soldiers have repelled numerous attacks in the Bakhmut region and other places in Donetsk, their Facebook page said on Saturday.

The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces visited Bakhmut troops for the second time in a week on Friday. Kiev dismissed a claim by Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin that only one road out of the city was open. The UK Ministry of Defense said Ukraine’s supply routes from Bakhmut “are becoming increasingly limited”.

Toll Now 10 From Thursday’s rocket attack on Zaporizhia (6am)

Ukraine’s emergency services said on Saturday that the death toll in a Russian rocket attack on an apartment building in Zaporizhia has risen to 10, including a child.

Rescue and recovery efforts continue at the site hit by an S-300 surface-to-air missile early Thursday. So far, 333 tons of rubble have been removed and consultants are on site to help dozens of residents and victims’ families.

Garland Says US Has Identified Alleged War Crimes (1am)

According to a Justice Department statement released Friday night, Garland and the other prosecutors attended the United for Justice conference in Lviv.

The Attorney General said the US had launched investigations into war crimes “that may violate US law”.

“Although we are still building our cases, interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence, we have already identified certain suspects,” Garland added in the statement. Zelenskiy’s office issued a statement saying Garland had been assisted by senior prosecutors from Spain, Britain and other European countries, as well as senior officials from the International Criminal Court and the United Nations.

Biden praises Germany’s support in meetings with Scholz (1am)

President Joe Biden, while meeting with Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House, praised Germany’s commitment to provide military and other support to Ukraine. “Ammunition, artillery, armored tanks, air defense systems — we were together all the time,” Biden said.

Both leaders are pushing to produce arms and ammunition for Ukraine as the Russian invasion enters its second year. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged allies to address ammunition shortages, particularly for tanks and air defense weapons supplied by Germany.

US Announces $400 Million in Munitions and Supplies to Ukraine (8:00 p.m.)

The Biden administration announced a new $400 million military aid package for Ukraine, including ammunition for its howitzers and highly mobile artillery missile systems, the US said on Friday.

The aid was primarily aimed at replacing the huge amount of shells and rockets Ukraine fired to repel Russian forces and did not include any new weapons systems. Among the items were 155mm artillery shells, 25mm ammunition and explosive munitions, as well as bridges and spare parts fired from armored vehicles, the Pentagon said.

Ground Commander of Ukraine Visits Bakhmut Troops (15:33)

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander in charge of Ukraine’s ground forces, was visiting troops defending Bakhmut, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. Fighting in and around the city continues and Russia is rallying troops trying to take it over, the ministry said on Telegram.

In a video released on Friday, Prigozhin addressed Ukraine’s president and said that “the scissors are closing” on the Kiev troops still in the area as only one road out of the city remains open. Taking control of Bakhmut is seen as a springboard for Russian forces to push further west and north.

The video was “disinformation” aimed at sowing panic and was filmed near a village that Russian forces claimed to have captured on February 20, the Ukrainian government’s Center for Strategic Communications told Telegram with.

Russia’s Wheat Exports Nearly Double Pre-War (2pm)

Russia’s grain exports are booming as buyers stock up on its attractive stocks. The boom shows shippers have overcome some of the financing and insurance problems fueled by sanctions against Russia.

The country’s shipments of wheat — its main crop — almost doubled in January and February from a year earlier, data from Logistic OS shows. Buyers avoided freight earlier in the season when prices were less attractive, but are returning now that last year’s massive harvest is helping Russian grain rank among the cheapest in the world.

Putin holds Security Council meeting (2:05 p.m.)

Putin held a regular meeting with senior officials, including the head of the Interior Ministry, a day after he denounced an attack in a village near the Russia-Ukraine border as a “terrorist act”.

Russia said Ukrainian fighters crossed the border in the Bryansk region, a claim officials in Kiev dismissed as a facility aimed at building public support for Putin’s invasion.

According to a readout quoted by ISW, Putin did not address the Bryansk incident at the meeting, but instead outlined new, limited support measures for Russian soldiers serving in Ukraine.

Russia’s oil and gas revenues plummeted 46% in February (1:31 p.m.)

Russia’s oil and gas revenues fell to 521 billion rubles ($6.91 billion) last month, according to the Treasury Ministry. Revenues from crude oil and petroleum products – which accounted for more than two-thirds of energy tax receipts last month – fell 48% year-on-year to RUB 361 billion, according to Bloomberg calculations.

The decline comes after the price of Ural crude – Russia’s main export blend – traded at a significant discount to Brent. The EU banned most seaborne imports of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia, and the Group of Seven developed a price cap.

Putin Orders New Rules for Defense Firms (1:17 p.m.)

Putin signed a decree with rules to tighten scrutiny of companies that fail to fulfill defense contracts in the event of martial law being imposed.

Under the measure, the state would be given the power to take over companies that fail to meet their obligations under military contracts and would suspend the rights of owners and shareholders. The Kremlin has imposed martial law in the regions of Ukraine currently occupied by its armed forces, with the exception of Crimea. Officials have said there are currently no plans to enact it on a larger scale.

Read more Putin orders new rules for defense contractors in case of martial law

Belarus sentences Nobel Peace Prize winner to 10 years (11:35 am)

Ales Bialiatski, 60, who received the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize in a Belarusian prison, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison as his country’s authoritarian government continues to crack down on opponents.

Two other members of the Viasna human rights center run by Bialiatski were sentenced to nine and seven years in prison, respectively, according to the state news agency Belta.

All were found guilty of financing anti-government protests and “smuggling cash” in an organized group. They have denied wrongdoing.

(See RSAN on the Bloomberg Terminal for the Russian Sanctions Dashboard.)

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