Latest in Ukraine: Wagner Group Chief Says He’s Withdrawing Fighters from Bakhmut Next Week
Russia “highly likely” unable to protect its vast rail system from sabotage uptick, according to British Defense Ministry. Ukraine shoots down its own malfunctioning drone over Kyiv. Kyiv, Odesa targeted by Russian missiles and drones.
The Wagner Group chief said Friday he is withdrawing his fighters from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on May 10 because they do not have enough ammunition.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said that without ammunition his private military units are “doomed to a senseless death.”
Prigozhin has complained for some time that his mercenaries in Ukraine have not received enough support from Russia.
Meanwhile, video has emerged for the Black Sea Economic Cooperation assembly in Ankara of a Russian and a Ukrainian delegate scuffling, after the Ukrainian flag was grabbed from the Ukrainian delegate, to prevent the flag from being in the background while a Russian official was being interviewed.
The British Defense Ministry attributed a “recent uptick” in Russian rail accidents in areas bordering Ukraine to “sabotage committed by unknown actors.”
In the report posted on Twitter on Friday, the ministry said the attacks have “almost certainly” resulted in “short-term localized disruption of Russia military rail movements.”
Russia’s Railway Troop Brigades can quickly restore the lines, the ministry said. However, Russia’s internal security forces will be subjected to increasing pressure and “will highly likely remain unable to fully protect Russia’s vast and vulnerable rail networks from attack.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine shot down one of its own drones that was malfunctioning over central Kyiv on Thursday evening.
Initial reports from government officials said the Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicle was an enemy drone, but later the air force said that the vehicle was Ukrainian.
The air force said in a statement that the uncontrolled presence of the drone in the sky could have led to “undesirable consequences.”
There were no reports of any injuries when the drone was shot down.
Earlier Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he is convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin would eventually face an international war crimes trial for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a speech at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Zelenskyy said, “Only one Russian crime led to all of these crimes: this is the crime of aggression, the start of evil, the primary crime. There should be responsibility for this crime.”
The ICC in March issued an arrest warrant for Putin on a war crimes charge involving the alleged deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia. Zelenskyy said Putin “deserves to be sentenced for these criminal actions right here in the capital of the international law.”
“And I’m sure we will see that happen when we win. And we will win,” he said.
The ICC cannot prosecute the crime of war aggression itself. But Zelenskyy appealed for a full-fledged tribunal to prosecute that overarching crime.
“If we want true justice, we should not look for excuses and should not refer to the shortcomings of the current international law but make bold decisions that will correct … shortcomings that unfortunately exist in international law,” he said.
Zelenskyy was welcomed outside the ICC building by the court’s president, Poland’s Piotr Hofmański. The court staff crowded at windows to watch Zelenskyy’s arrival and raised a Ukrainian flag next to the court’s own flag outside the building.
The ICC said in a March 18 statement that Putin “is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of [children] and that of unlawful transfer of [children] from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”
But the chances of Putin standing trial in The Hague are remote. The court does not have a police force to execute its warrants, and the Russian leader is unlikely to travel to any of the ICC’s 123 member states that are under an obligation to arrest him if they can. Neither the U.S. nor Russia recognizes the authority of the court.
Zelenskyy’s speech came a day after he denied that Ukrainian forces were responsible for what the Russian government alleged was an attempt to assassinate Putin in a drone attack on the Kremlin. Moscow promised retaliation for what it termed a “terrorist” act.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday accused the United States of being behind the alleged attack. He said Russia was “well aware that the decision on such actions and terrorist attacks is not made in Kyiv, but in Washington.”
“And then Kyiv does what it’s told to do,” Peskov said, without offering evidence for his claim.
In Washington, U.S. national security spokesman John Kirby rejected the Russian accusation, telling MSNBC, “I can assure you that there was no involvement by the United States. … We had nothing to do with this, so Peskov is just lying there, pure and simple.”
U.S. officials also have voiced skepticism about the attack itself, including whether it was possibly staged by Moscow. “I would take anything coming out of the Kremlin with a very large shaker of salt,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.
On the battlefront, Ukraine’s military claimed three Russian drones that hit the southern city of Odesa early Thursday had “for Moscow” and “for the Kremlin” written on them, seemingly signaling the drone attacks were specifically retaliatory. Also, Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, was the target of an air attack for the third time in four days.
Ukraine’s Air Force said it intercepted 18 of the 24 Iranian-made drones launched by Russian forces in various regions. No casualties were reported.
Fuel depot fires
A product storage area at a refinery in southern Russia caught fire after a drone attack Thursday. However, the Russian Tass news agency said the fire at the Ilsky refinery, near the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk in the Krasnodar region was put out after two hours and the facility was now working normally.
Wednesday, Veniamin Kondratyev, the governor of Russia’s southwestern Krasnodar region, said on the messaging app Telegram that a fuel depot in the village of Volna was targeted by a drone. He said there were no reports of casualties from the fire.
Volna is near the bridge spanning the Kerch Strait that separates mainland Russia from the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The bridge, which is a vital link for Russia’s military to transport supplies to its soldiers in Ukraine, was partially destroyed by a truck bomb last October that Moscow blamed on Kyiv.
Wednesday’s fuel depot fire comes after a suspected drone attack last Saturday on an oil depot in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol.
The British Defense ministry in its daily intelligence update posted on Twitter said the attacks on Russian fuel depots in occupied Ukraine and the Russia Ukraine border area “will likely force adjustments to Russia’s military refueling operations to mitigate targeting.”
Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.