Latest in Ukraine: Battle Over Bakhmut Grinds On in Ukraine
Russia warns Western alliance they will face "colossal risks" if they provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, TASS news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying on Saturday. U.S. President Joe Biden told G-7 leaders on Friday that Washington supports joint allied training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighters, senior U.S. officials said. The Group of Seven rich nations announced support Saturday for gas investments, calling it a "temporary" step as they divest from Russian energy. The plan has dismayed climate activists, who say it may hurt climate objectives. The member states of the International Criminal Court expressed deep concern Saturday about Russia's decision to place ICC's prosecutor Karim Khan and several judges on a wanted list. The Kremlin's move came after The Hague-based ICC charged President Vladimir Putin in March with the war crime of illegally deporting children from Ukraine.
Ukraine says fighting in Bakhmut continues to rage on, rejecting claims Saturday by Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin that his fighters have occupied the besieged city.
In a video on the Telegram messaging app, Prigozhin claimed his forces fully captured the destroyed Ukrainian city. “Today, at 12 noon, Bakhmut was completely taken,” he said. “We completely took the whole city, from house to house.”
The Wagner chief appeared in combat fatigues in front of a line of fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners.
Responding to Prigozhin’s claims, Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi told Reuters, “This is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.”
However, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar called the situation in Bakhmut “critical,” with the Ukrainian troops maintaining a defense in the southwestern part of the city.
“Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical,” she said on Telegram. “As of now, our defenders control some industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area and the private sector.”
For almost 15 months, Bakhmut has been the focus of the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
However, Prigozhin claimed his forces had full control of the city and insisted Wagner fighters would hand over Bakhmut to the regular Russian army by May 25. The Wagner boss also mockingly addressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joe Biden, who are participating Saturday at the G-7 summit in Japan.
“Today, when you see Biden kiss him on the top of his head, say hi to him from me,” he said.
British Defense intelligence said Saturday on Twitter that Moscow appeared to be sending reinforcements around Bakhmut, even though Russian troops are in short supply elsewhere.
Moscow has indicated it views a Bakhmut victory as a springboard toward deeper advances into the Donbas region. But Prigozhin has acknowledged the eastern industrial city with a prewar population of 70,000 has little strategic significance, despite its key symbolic importance because of its large scale of losses in Europe’s bloodiest ground battle since World War II.
Russia threatened Western allies with “colossal consequences” if they provide F-16 jets to Ukraine. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko issued this warning Saturday while responding to a question about the implications such a move, the Russian state-run news agency Tass reported.
The G-7 announced it will provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets and train Ukrainian pilots to fly them.
In a statement provided to VOA, a senior administration official said Friday that President Biden informed G-7 leaders the U.S. will support a joint effort with allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, to further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian air force.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this week when he and Zelenskyy met in Paris that France is ready to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16s.
Media reports said the training would likely take place in Europe and begin within weeks.
Zelenskyy at G-7
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy arrived in Japan on Saturday to attend in-person diplomatic talks with the leaders of the seven wealthiest industrial nations. In a tweet, Zelenskyy wrote “Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine,” and added “Peace will become closer today.”
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that Biden and Zelenskyy would meet at the G-7 Summit on Sunday. “It is necessary to improve [Ukraine’s] air defense capabilities, including the training of our pilots,” Zelenskyy wrote on his official Telegram channel.
On Friday, the member states of the International Criminal Court are decrying Russia for putting the court’s British prosecutor, Karim Khan, and several judges on a wanted list, calling the move “deeply concerning and deplorable.”
The comments came from the presidency of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC, the court’s management oversight body, comprising 123 member states.
Russia’s move came after Khan issued war crimes charges against President Vladimir Putin last March, Russian media reported Friday. The ICC also has issued an arrest warrant against Maria Lvova-Belova, who, along with Putin, is accused by the ICC’s prosecutor of the war crime of deporting hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.