Russian Defense Minister Visits Ukraine

Russia’s defense minister visited Russian soldiers in Ukraine on Saturday.

The ministry said in a statement on the messaging app Telegram that Sergei Shoigu “inspected the forward command post of one of the formations of the Eastern Military District in the South Donetsk direction.”

Shoigu has been criticized for Russia’s poor performance in its war against Ukraine. In a video released Saturday, the defense minister was seen handing out medals to Russian military forces.

Meanwhile, the British Defense Ministry said Saturday that “intense fighting” is underway in and around the Ukrainian Donbas town of Bakhmut.

Victory in Bakhmut would be a stepping stone to capturing the surrounding Donbas region, an important strategic goal. Ukraine says the city has little intrinsic strategic value but notes huge losses there could determine the course of the war.

The British intelligence update on Twitter said Bakhmut is vulnerable to Russian attacks on three sides, but Ukraine is reinforcing the areas with elite units.

Two key bridges in Bakhmut have been recently destroyed in the area, the report said, “including a vital bridge connecting the city to the last main supply route from Bakhmut to the city of Chasiv Yar.”

According to the Defense Ministry, Ukrainian-held resupply routes out of the town are “increasingly limited.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address that he was engaged in meetings and negotiations with a number of entities on Friday.

The president said the main focus of his meetings has been holding Russia accountable for its actions. “We are doing everything to ensure that the International Criminal Court is successful in punishing Russian war criminals,” the Ukrainian leader said.

The United States announced Friday a new package of military aid for Ukraine that totals about $400 million, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“This military assistance package includes more ammunition for U.S.-provided HIMARS and howitzers, which Ukraine is using so effectively to defend itself, as well as ammunition for Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges, demolitions munitions and equipment, and other maintenance, training and support,” he said.

The package will be funded using the presidential drawdown authority, which authorizes the president to transfer articles and services from U.S. stocks without congressional approval during an emergency, Blinken said in announcing the aid.

The Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge is a portable, 18-meter folding metal bridge that is carried on top of a tank body. Providing that system now could help Ukrainian troops as they launch an expected spring offensive, making it easier for them to cross rivers to battle Russian forces.

Including this latest package, the U.S. has now provided more than $32 billion in military aid to Ukraine. The vehicle bridges and ammunition in the package can be delivered quickly to the front lines because they will be taken from existing Pentagon stocks.

European Union countries also are working to deliver thousands of shells to Ukraine under a $1 billion program.

Particularly significant will be the delivery of 155 mm NATO-standard howitzer rounds that are urgently needed in advance of an intense spring campaign, according to the Financial Times, citing anonymous EU officials. This ammunition, according to the FT report, is critical to keep Ukraine in a fight in which Russia fires on average an estimated four shells for every Ukrainian shell fired.

“We need as much ammunition as possible. There are many more Russians here than we have ammunition to destroy them,” Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander in the national guard of Ukraine, told Ukrainian NV Radio.

Top US justice official

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Friday to attend a conference on justice and war crimes.

The U.S. Justice Department said Garland held several meetings at the conference in the western city of Lviv to reaffirm “our determination to hold Russia accountable for crimes committed in its unjust and unprovoked invasion against its sovereign neighbor.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.

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