Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 411

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine in February 2022 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

75 percent of Bakhmut controlled by Russia: Moscow official

The Russian-installed head of the Moscow-controlled part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region said Russian forces controlled more than 75 percent of Bakhmut.

“I can say with absolute certainty, that more than 75% of the city is under the control of our units,” Denis Pushilin told state-run Rossiya-24 TV channel after his visit, though he cautioned it was too early to talk about Bakhmut’s fall.

Russia announced the capture of Bakhmut will open up the possibility for future offensives across Ukraine, while Kyiv and the West say the now smashed city has only symbolic importance.

Ukraine, Russia swap 100 PoWs

Russia’s Defence Ministry said that Ukraine had released 106 Russian Prisoners of War (PoW) in exchange for 100 Ukrainians both sides said.

In a Telegram post, Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak stated the released Ukrainians included defenders of Mariupol city and its Azovstal steel plant, captured in the war’s opening months.

The Russian news outlet, Tass, reported the ministry saying in a statement, “On April 10, as a result of the negotiation process, 106 Russian servicemen were returned from the territory controlled by the Kyiv regime, who were in mortal danger in captivity.”

The PoWs will be sent to Moscow, where they will be given medical treatment and rehabilitation.

No plans for an Easter truce: Moscow

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says there are no initiatives for an Easter truce in Ukraine, Tass news agency reported.

“Nobody put forward [the idea of ​​an Easter truce]; it was not put forward,” Peskov stated.

“So far there have been no initiatives on this score, but we have just started Holy Week. So far there have been no such initiatives,” he repeated.

The Kremlin spokesperson added, “Moscow has already put forward initiatives [on a truce], it itself adhered to this, but faced the unwillingness of the Kyiv regime to follow such a regime.”

Ukraine seeks visit by India’s Modi: Official

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister says Kyiv seeks a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top officials while adding that New Delhi should be more involved in resolving the war in Ukraine.

Emine Dzhaparova told broadcaster CNBC TV18 in an interview that it was expected India would invite Ukrainian officials to participate in G20 events in September while adding that New Delhi should intensify political dialogue with Kyiv.

Dhzhaparova is on a four-day visit to New Delhi.

There’s a ‘tendency to always blame everything on Russia’: Kremlin

When asked about a leak of US intelligence documents, the Kremlin says there was a general tendency always to blame Russia for everything.

Some national security experts and US officials say the leaker could be American, but they do not rule out pro-Russian actors.

When asked about allegations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “I cannot comment on this in any way. You and I know that there is, in fact, a tendency to always blame everything on Russia. It is, in general, a disease.”

Asked about the idea that Washington had spied on Volodymyr Zelensky, Peskov, who called the leaks “quite interesting”, said that could not be ruled out.

“But the fact that the United States has been spying on various heads of state, especially in European capitals, for a long time now, has come up repeatedly, causing various scandalous situations,” he added.

The US Department of Defense said an interagency effort is assessing the impact that leaked intelligence documents could have on US national security and its allies and partners.

“The Department of Defense continues to review and assess the validity of the photographed documents that are circulating on social media sites and that appear to contain sensitive and highly classified material,” the department announced in a statement.

Classified documents, with details ranging from Ukraine’s air defences to Israel’s Mossad spy agency, have officials scrambling to identify the leak’s source.

Some experts say it could be an American.

Hard to imagine France as a mediator: Russia

The Kremlin announced it is hard to imagine France, whose President Emmanuel Macron visited China for talks last week, playing a mediation role in Ukraine because Paris had taken the side of one of the parties in the conflict.

In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also stated China had every right to respond to what it called “provocations” and carry out military exercises around Taiwan.

Ukraine changing military plans due to Pentagon leak: Report

A major leak of classified documents detailing Washington’s war planning in Ukraine has forced Kiev to step up precautions and change its military posture, CNN reported, citing sources.

According to a source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kiev “has already altered some of its military plans” due to a trove of sensitive Pentagon files leaked online. The outlet, however, did not clarify what plans have been altered, in what way, and how drastic these changes are.

CNN has reviewed 53 documents which appear to have been compiled between mid-February and early March.

The leaks shed light on US spying efforts on Washington’s key allies, including Ukraine and Zelensky personally, the report added. A CNN source described the revelation as “unsurprising,” but noted that it still frustrated Ukrainian officials.

One US intelligence report also claims that in late February, Zelensky “suggested striking Russian deployment locations in Russia’s Rostov Oblast” with drones due to the lack of other types of long-range weapons, the report says.

Last week, Mikhail Podoliak, a senior aide to Zelensky, attempted to downplay the leak, dismissing the documents as “photoshop and virtual fake leaks.” He stated that Moscow “is eager to disrupt the Ukrainian counteroffensive,” which is widely expected to begin within several weeks, but “will see the real plans on the ground” soon.

Moscow set to deploy ‘tank hunters’ to battlefield: Official

Russia is putting together tank-killer groups that will fight modern armor provided to Kiev by its Western backers, a senior defense official said in an interview released on Sunday.

Speaking to Zvezda TV channel, Evgeny Arifulin, who heads a military training center located not far from Nizhny Novgorod in central Russia, stated that the order to create the units had been issued by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. The Russian military then developed “instructional guidelines” to achieve that goal, which are being implemented on the training ground, he added.

“This is large-scale, systemic work which is being carried out at state level,” the military official continued.

Apart from ‘tank hunters’, the facility is also training service members in several fields, teaching them how to fire from artillery or operate various missile systems, Arifulin added. The facility could instruct as many as 700 soldiers at a time, the official stated.

With the focus being put on tackling Western armor, Arifulin noted that the Russian military had studied all these tanks, including American M1 Abrams, German Leopards, British Challengers and French Leclercs.

“We know all their strengths and weaknesses and train the personnel [to fight them],” he said.

The members of ‘tank-hunter’ groups are being trained by veteran instructors, who have seen action in several conflicts in recent decades, including the ongoing military campaign in Ukraine, Zvezda reported. It added that these groups comprise only a small number of soldiers, who are mostly armed with anti-tank guided missile launchers and predominantly use reconnaissance drones.

US pilots apparently told to fly farther from Crimea: Report

The US has apparently instructed its military to fly surveillance aircraft much farther from Crimea, Russia than they are allowed by international law, the Washington Post reported, citing a leaked Pentagon document.

The report comes after a trove of US classified files on the Ukraine conflict was dumped online last week.

According to the newspaper, one document contains a map of an area where US spy planes may fly. It reportedly shows a boundary that starts around 12 miles (19.3 km) off the coast of Crimea, which is in accordance with international law, and a second line about 50 miles (80.4 km) from the shore marked as ‘SECDEF Direct Standoff’. The map indicates that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “may have ordered US pilots to keep aircraft farther from the peninsula,” the Post wrote.

Last week, the Pentagon and the Department of Justice launched separate probes into the leaks of top-secret files. One document circulating on social media appears to be a daily dispatch from the battlefield and shows the disposition of Ukrainian forces, as well as their training schedule.

Zelensky slams Russia over holiday attack that left father and daughter dead

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky slammed Russia during his nightly speech Sunday for the deadly attack reported by Ukraine’s emergency service in Zaporizhzhia overnight.

“This is how the terrorist state spends this Palm Sunday,” Zelensky said, referring to today’s holiday in the eastern Orthodox tradition, as other Christians celebrate Easter Sunday.

At least two people were killed when Russian strikes hit the southern city overnight, according to Ukraine’s State Emergency Service.

A 50-year-old man and his 11-year-old daughter were killed after the strikes partially destroyed a residential building, officials said on Telegram. Rescuers pulled a 46-year-old woman out of the rubble, it added.

“This is how Russia puts itself in even greater isolation from the world, from humanity,” Zelensky stated.

It’s hell in Bakhmut” but Kyiv’s forces are still holding positions: Ukraine

The battles inside the eastern town of Bakhmut, Ukraine, are “the most difficult ones since you are very close to the enemy,” Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesperson for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said on national television Sunday.

“But the supply route is still open and Ukrainian forces are holding their positions,” he said.
Wagner mercenary fighters have been “the most aggressive in the Bakhmut direction” but Russian paratroopers and infantry soldiers are also fighting in Bakhmut and in the area, he stated.

“Russians still hold a significant advantage in artillery in the areas of their main attack,” he continued.

“We are supplying Bakhmut with ammunition, food and supplies, as well as taking our wounded out,” Cherevaty added.

Russian forces continue their push to take “full control” of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military said in its latest operational update Sunday morning.

Unofficial reports suggest Russian forces are maintaining their slow advance through the center of Bakhmut and into the western parts of the city, with the railway station as a potential next key target.

Yuriy Syrotyuk, a grenade launcher in Ukraine’s military, stated in an interview on national television Sunday that the situation in Bakhmut is “really hard” for Kyiv’s forces, as they are outnumbered by Russian troops and Wagner fighters.

“Bakhmut stands; there is a supply” but “Russians outnumber us and hold more ammunition,” Syrotyuk noted.

“It’s hell in Bakhmut. We are currently holding the right flank of the city’s defense. The enemy artillery is shooting non-stop, as well as (multiple rocket launcher fire) and aviation,” he continued.

“It is really hard now because Russian artillery and tanks have pulled up very close, they are trying to shoot everything. (Enemy) paratroopers with weapons have arrived. Unfortunately, the enemy is fine with weapons. In Bakhmut they have no shortage of personnel or ammunition,” he added.

The Russian offensive on the southern flank of the city has weakened, “which is why they are trying to attack head-on through the city,” Syrotyuk said.

Russia has moved its artillery and rocket launchers within the city’s boundaries.

“The enemy is destroying everything and proceeding through the ruins,” but the supply road to Bakhmut is open, Syrotyuk stated.

“I was on the southern outskirts of Bakhmut this morning. We left OK. Yes, the enemy is shelling the road, yes it is dangerous. However, there are supplies, the defense is properly organized and there is even a rotation. Look, we were able to leave, to wash up, and will come back,” he added, noting he had taken a brief break from the fighting to rest and participate in the interview.

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