Russia names new commander in Ukraine

  • Russia has appointed army general Valery Gerasimov to lead its war efforts in Ukraine, effectively demoting Sergei Surovikin only three months after he was tasked with overseeing what Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
  • The Wagner group says it has captured all of the eastern salt mining town of Soledar and killed about 500 Ukrainian soldiers after heavy fighting. Ukraine denies the town has fallen and says fighting continues.

    Russia questions Sweden over Nord Stream blasts probe

    A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry has questioned whether Sweden has “something to hide” over blasts along the Nord Stream gas pipelines last September.

    Addressing reporters at a news briefing, Maria Zakharova also reiterated criticism of the Swedish government for not sharing information from the ongoing investigations into the incidents.

    Sweden and other European investigators say the attacks were carried out on purpose, but they have not said who they think was responsible. Moscow, without providing evidence, has blamed the explosions on Western sabotage.

    “Maybe Russian investigators, conducting an objective investigation, could come to an inconvenient conclusion… about who conducted this act of sabotage, terrorism. About who thought it up, and who carried it out,” Zakharova said.

    Russia building up forces as battle for Soledar rages: Ukrainian official

    Russia is building up its forces in Ukraine but Kyiv’s troops are holding out in fierce fighting for control of the eastern town of Soledar, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister has said.

    Hanna Malyar told a news briefing that the number of Russian military units in Ukraine had risen to 280 from 250 a week earlier.

    “They [the Russians] are moving over their own corpses,” Malyar said of the fighting for Soledar, which Wagner Group mercenaries have been fighting to take control of for weeks.

    “Russia is driving its own people to the slaughter by the thousands, but we are holding on,” she added.

    Moscow imposes new sanctions over UK’s ‘anti-Russian course’

    Russia’s foreign ministry says Moscow has imposed sanctions on 36 individuals in connection with the “anti-Russian course” adopted by the United Kingdom’s government.

    The list includes politicians, security officials and journalists, the ministry said in a statement.

    “Deliberately refusing constructive and constructive dialogue, London continues the line of confrontation, in collaboration with Washington, and spreads false information about Russia, [and] incites Russophobia,” it said.

    The UK and its Western allies have rolled out sweeping sanctions on Russia over its offensive in Ukraine – measures which Moscow has persistently railed against.

    HRW annual report hails international response to Russia’s invasion

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

    “Never in the history of responding to conflicts have we seen a coordinated international response where we have all the arsenal of the international community to protect human rights and ensure accountability,” HRW said in its annual report.

    The Washington, DC-based watchdog urged governments to “replicate the best of the international response in Ukraine” and “scale up the political will to address other crises”.

    Russia says Moscow and Kyiv interested in talks on human rights

    Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova has said Moscow and Kyiv are interested in future contacts between their rights commissioners, the TASS news agency has reported.

    Following a meeting this week in Turkey with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Lubinets, Moskalkova said she believed Ukraine was open to discussions.

    “They have taken a pragmatic approach and are ready for dialogue,” Moskalkova said on Thursday, speaking of Lubinets.

    “We already have concrete results on the search for missing people, and return of children to their families. I hope the dialogue is continued. The most important thing is that it should not be politicised, but based exclusively on humanitarian and human rights principles,” TASS quoted her as saying.

    Change of commander reflects power struggle within Russia: ISW

    The appointment of Gerasimov over Surovikin is “highly likely to have been in part a political decision to reassert the primacy of the Russian [ministry of defence] in an internal Russian power struggle”, the Institute for the Study of War has said.

    Wagner Group chief Prigozhin had increasingly criticised the ministry’s conduct of the war since late 2022.

    “Surovikin, the previous theater commander in Ukraine, was a public favorite of Prigozhin, and Ukrainian intelligence reported Surovikin is a rival of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu,” the Washington-based think tank said in its latest assessment.

    Gerasimov’s nomination is likely “a signal for Prigozhin and other actors to reduce their criticism” of the ministry, it added.

    Russia allocates airborne forces to reinforce Kreminna front line: UK

    Russia has “almost certainly” allocated a contingent of airborne forces to reinforce the Kreminna front line after assessing its vulnerability, the British Ministry of Defence has said in a regular update.

    Kreminna, which had a population of more than 18,000 before the war, was the first town confirmed to have been taken by Russian forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since they launched their invasion. Moscow claimed control over it in mid-April.

    The ministry said Moscow had previously deployed the airborne troop contingent in Kherson, until November, when it withdrew its troops following a significant military blow.

    Evacuation impossible for hundreds of civilians in Soledar: Governor

    Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko has told Ukrainian state TV that 559 civilians remain in Soledar, including 15 children, and it was impossible to evacuate them due to ongoing fighting.

    The town, which had a pre-war population of about 10,500, has been the theatre of heavy fighting as Russian and mercenary troops attempt to encircle Bakhmut, 10km to the south, which has been the focus of Russian offensive operations since September.

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