Russia has agreed to extend the Black Sea grain deal for a further 60 days after previously hinting that it could block the extension.
The deal, brokered by the UN and Turkey, was first signed by both Russia and Ukraine in July last year, allowing Ukrainian agricultural goods to be transported over the Black Sea and onto the global market.
It was extended for 120 days in November. Monday’s extension, just days before its March 18 deadline, was only half that.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin said after talks with the UN that his country “does not object to another extension of the ‘Black Sea Initiative’ after its second term expiration on March 18, but only for 60 days.”
Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said that the 60-day extension “contradicts the document signed by Turkey and the UN,” but accepted it anyway, adding that “We’re waiting for the official position of the UN and Turkey as the guarantors of the initiative.”
So far, some 24.1 million tonnes have been exported as part of the “Black Sea Grain Initiative,” according to the UN.
Moscow has previously complained that although the deal ensures the export of Russian agricultural goods, sanctions on other industries, such as banking, have hampered Russian trade.
“Our further stance will be determined upon the tangible progress on normalization of our agricultural exports, not [in] words, but in deeds,” Vershinin said.
“It includes bank payments, transport logistics, insurance, ‘unfreezing’ of financial activities and ammonia supplies via the Tolyatti-Odessa pipeline,” he added.
Russia has also said that Ukrainian goods are going mostly to richer countries, something it believes is against the aim of the agreement.
Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war on Monday, March 13:
Ukrainian crews finish Leopard 2 tank training in Spain
Spain has wrapped up its four-week training of dozens of Ukrainian soldiers in how to use Leopard 2A4 tanks ahead of the planned delivery of six of Spain’s own mothballed Leopard 2 tanks later this year.
Some 40 Ukrainian tank crew members and 15 mechanical specialists had been taken to a military base in Zaragoza, northern Spain.
Spanish trainer Captain Contreras told Reuters that the training had been “intense,” but that the Ukrainian soldiers were leaving “with a very acceptable knowledge” of the tanks.
“Although the tanks were different, there were many systems that coincide and that has made things much easier. With that, together with the motivation that the personnel brought and their desire to learn, we see them very well prepared to resume combat,” he added.
Ukraine says it is still holding positions in Bakhmut
The head of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi says his soldiers are facing heavy pressure around Bakhmut, but Kyiv’s forces have so far managed to fend off attempts to capture the town.
“The situation around Bakhmut remains difficult,” Syrskyi was quoted as saying on Ukraine’s Media Military Centre Telegram
“All enemy attempts to capture the town are repelled by artillery, tanks, and other firepower,” Syrskyi said and went on to say that forces from Russian private military company Wagner Group “are attacking from several directions trying to break through the defenses of our troops and advance to the central districts of the town.”
Wagner meanwhile said: “the enemy is battling for every meter, the closer we are to the city center, the harder the battles”.
DW is not able to independently verify the claims.
Over the weekend, British military intelligence reported that units from the Wagner Group had captured most of eastern Bakhmut, with a river flowing through the city center now marking the front line.
Wagner has been spearheading offensives in eastern Ukraine, in what has become the longest and bloodiest fight of Russia’s yearlong assault. Both sides have suffered heavy losses around the city.
ICC to investigate alleged Russian war crimes — New York Times
The International Criminal Court (ICC) will open two cases against Russian officials, the New York Times reported.
A spokeswoman for the office of ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said it “offers no comment about this story.”
The New York Times said the first case involved Russia’s alleged abduction of Ukrainian children.
The second case pertains to allegations that Moscow deliberately targets civilian infrastructure in its war on Ukraine.
The ICC launched an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine just days after the start of the invasion on February 24, 2022.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC. Russia denies the allegations of war crimes committed by its forces.
Russia could raise military age
A bill introduced in Russia’s parliament could raise the age for compulsory military service, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
The proposal would gradually raise the minimum military conscription age from 18 to 21 by 2026.
It would also immediately raise the maximum age from 27 to 30.
Voluntary enlistment in the army will still be possible at the age of 18 under the bill.
Independent media reported that the new regulations could bring another 300,000 conscripts to the army. Russia does not officially use conscripts on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Russia’s Shoigu hails China relations
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says that relations between Russia and China have become a “major factor supporting global stability,” according to Russian news agency TASS.
“Bilateral relations between our countries have reached a new, unprecedented level and have become a major factor supporting global stability in the face of increasing geopolitical tensions in the world,” Shoigu said in a Telegram message to the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Zhang Youxia.
China has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has called for a negotiated solution to the conflict.
Black Sea grain deal extension talks underway in Geneva — report
Talks aimed at discussing an extension to a deal allowing the export of grain from Ukraine are taking place according to a report from Reuters, citing Russia’s diplomatic mission in Geneva.
The deal, which was brokered by the UN and Turkey, is up for renewal on March 18.
Last week UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted the importance of the deal to global food security and food prices, amid calls from Ukraine for an extension.
Reuters reported that UN trade official Rebeca Grynspan and head of aid Martin Griffiths, had arrived at UN European headquarters in Geneva but did not make any comments.
More than 24.1 million tons have been exported under the initiative, according to the UN.
Wagner Group likely aiming to recruit from ordinary Russians — UK intelligence
It’s likely that Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, has lost access to prisons as part of its recruitment strategy and will now likely shift focus towards recruiting ordinary Russians, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) said in its latest intelligence update.
The MOD pointed out that this was due to Wagner group head, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s “ongoing disputes with the Russian MoD leadership.”
According to the MOD, masked Wagner recruiters were giving career talks at high schools in Moscow, and were handing out questionnaires titled “application a young warrior.”
The MOD said that half of the prisoners Wagner had deployed in Ukraine had likely become casualties, and the new recruitment strategy was a possible way of making up for the loss of convict recruits.
The ban on recruiting from prisons could also result in Wagner reducing the scale of its operations in Ukraine.
European arms imports nearly double in 2022
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says European arms imports have almost doubled in 2022.
Shipments of arms to Ukraine are driving the increase in numbers with a 93% spike seen when compared with the previous year.
SIPRI also says that imports have jumped due to a hike in military spending from European states.
“The invasion has really caused a significant surge in demand for arms in Europe, which will have further effect and most likely will lead to increased arms imports by European states,” Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at SIPRI, told the AFP news agency.
According to SIPRI’s data, Ukraine accounted for 31% of arms transfers to Europe.
SIPRI’s estimated figures for military expenditure in 2022 will be released in April.
Russia’s invasion having ‘devastating’ impact on children — HRW
The rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Russia’s war in Ukraine is severely traumatizing children, specifically those living in orphanages.
The HRW report released on Monday says there are more than 105,000 children living in residential institutions — the largest number in Europe after Russia.
“Ukrainian children who were housed in Soviet-era institutions now face extreme risks due to Russia’s war on Ukraine,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate director at HRW.
“There needs to be a concerted international effort to identify and return children who were deported to Russia, and Ukraine and its allies should ensure that all children who were or remain institutionalized are identified and provided with support to live with their families and in communities.”
HRW pointed out that many more children will be orphaned as a result of the war.
The watchdog said that it had also documented Russia’s forced transfer of children from residential institutions to Russian-occupied territory, which is a war crime.
The report also highlighted the mental trauma displaced children were experiencing and pointed out shortcomings in care due to insufficient caregivers.
More on the war in Ukraine
Ukraine’s military says Russia is using hypersonic missiles in attacks that have been launched on targets across the country. Read more about the difference between conventional missiles and how they’re able to evade interception for longer.
Russian lawmakers are looking to tighten the screw on individuals who criticize Russian forces fighting against Ukraine. How will these legal changes impact Russia’s society? Read about that here.
ab, kb/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)