Both Ukraine and Russia have reported inflicting heavy losses during fierce fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut – while the International Criminal Court (ICC) is said to be planning to issue arrest warrants against a number of Russians.
Commanders on both sides have reported relentless fighting around Bakhmut, which has become the focus of a months-long campaign to take the city in the region of Donetsk which has led to some of the bloodiest fighting since Moscow’s invasion began.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor at the ICC is expected to ask pre-trial judges to approve arrest warrants against Russian individuals relating to the abduction of children from Ukraine to Russia and the targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, according to reports from Reuters and the New York Times. If successful, it will be the first time ICC warrants are issued in relation to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The prosecutor, Karim Khan, opened an investigation into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine a year ago. He highlighted during four trips to Ukraine that he was looking at alleged crimes against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure in Moscow’s repeated missile assaults. A recent US-backed report by researchers at Yale University last month said Russia has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children at sites in Russian-held Crimea. The report identified at least 43 camps and other facilities where Ukrainian children have been held that were part of a “large-scale systematic network” operated by Moscow.
The ICC did not comment on the reports. Russia has claimed that children have been taken and given to Russian families on the grounds of humanitarian rescue. Moscow also denies deliberately harming civilians in their months-long targeting of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Neither Russia or Ukraine is a signatory to the ICC’s founding document and there is little chance of Moscow handing anyone over to the court. Ukraine has asked the ICC to exercise jurisdiction and dozens of ICC member states have referred the invasion to the court.
On the ground in Ukraine, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the Ukrainian Commander of Ground Forces, said the “situation around Bakhmut remains difficult”.
“[Wagner mercenary group] assault units are advancing from several directions, trying to break through the defences of our troops and advance to the central districts of the city,” he added.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, claimed late on Sunday on Sunday that there had been more than 1,100 deaths of Russian forces in the past few days around Bakhmut, while Russia’s ministry of defence claimed it had killed 220 Ukrainian soldiers in the last 24 hours.
Mr Zelensky also handed the country’s highest honour – the “Hero of Ukraine” – to a Ukrainian soldier who was filmed apparently being killed by Russian troops. Oleksandr Matsievskiy was unarmed when he was videoed smoking a cigarette and shouting “Glory to Ukraine” before being gunned down. He had been fighting around Bakhmut. Moscow faced fresh accusations of war crimes when the footage surfaced.
Moscow has claimed that taking Bakhmut would open a path to capture the rest of the surrounding Donetsk region, a central war aim for President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine and the US have sought to play down the significance of the city, with Kyiv saying it is trying to wipe out as many Russian units as possible ahead of a counter-offensive.
On the political front, Moscow has suggested it would be open to renewing a deal allowing the safe export of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports – but only for a period of 60 days, half the term of the previous renewal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said on Monday after talks with UN officials in Geneva.
The Black Sea grain initiative, brokered between Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey last July, aimed to prevent a global food crisis by allowing Ukrainian grain blockaded by Russia’s invasion to be safely exported from three Ukrainian ports. The deal, which was extended for 120 days in November, finishes on Saturday.
Elsewhere, it is believed that China’s Xi Jinping is planning a visit to Moscow, potentially as soon as next week. Although there are also suggestions Mr Xi could talk with Mr Zelensky via videolink. A visit by Mr Xi to Russia would be a major event for Mr Putin, who portrays the war in Ukraine as a fight against the whole of the West. Moscow has looked to Beijing as an ally, but a call between Mr Zelensky and Mr Xi would certainly be a coup for Kyiv.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report