Casualties Mount in Battle of Bakhmut – As ICC Prepares ‘First Arrest Warrants’ for Russian Invasion

Both Ukraine and Russia have reported heavy losses during the heavy 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 reported relentless battles around Bakhmut, which became the focus of a months-long campaign for control of the city in the Donetsk region that led to some of the bloodiest battles since the conquest of Moscow began.

Meanwhile, the ICC prosecutor is expected to ask pre-trial judges to approve arrest warrants against Russian individuals related to the kidnapping of children from Ukraine to Russia and the targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, according to reports from Reuters and New York times. If successful, it would be the first time it has issued arrest warrants from the ICC in connection with Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Prosecutor Karim Khan opened an investigation into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine a year ago. He confirmed during four trips to Ukraine that he was looking into alleged crimes against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure in Moscow’s repeated missile attacks. A recent US-backed report prepared by researchers at Yale University said last month that Russia has detained at least 6,000 Ukrainian children at sites in Russian-controlled Crimea. The report identified at least 43 camps and other facilities in which Ukrainian children were held that were part of a “wide-ranging, systematic network” run by Moscow.

The International Criminal Court did not comment on the reports. Russia claimed that the children were taken and handed over to Russian families on the basis of humanitarian rescue. Moscow also denies deliberately harming civilians in its targeting of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure for months.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine signed the founding document of the ICC, and there is little chance Moscow will hand 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 Sersky, the Ukrainian commander of the ground forces, said that “the situation around Pakhmut remains difficult.”

“[Wagner mercenary group] He added that the offensive units are advancing from several directions in an attempt to penetrate the defenses of our forces and advance to the central neighborhoods of the city.

Late Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that more than 1,100 Russian soldiers had been killed in the past few days around Bakhmut, while the Russian Defense Ministry claimed it had killed 220 Ukrainian soldiers in the past 24 hours.

Mr. Zelensky also presented his highest honor — “Hero of Ukraine” — to a Ukrainian soldier who was apparently photographed by Russian forces. Oleksandr Matsievsky was unarmed when he was videotaped smoking a cigarette and shouting “Glory to Ukraine” before he was shot dead. He was fighting around Bakhmut. Moscow faced fresh war crimes charges when the footage emerged.

Moscow claimed that capturing Bakhmut would open the way to capturing the rest of the surrounding Donetsk region, a central war objective of President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine and the United States have sought to downplay the city, with Kiev saying it is trying to eliminate as many Russian units as possible before a counterattack.

On the political front, Moscow has suggested it would be open to renewing an agreement that would allow the safe export of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports — but only for 60 days, half the term of the previous renewal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei said. Vershinin said on Monday after talks with United Nations officials in Geneva.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, which the United Nations and Turkey brokered between Russia and Ukraine last July, aims to prevent a global food crisis by allowing Ukrainian grain besieged by the Russian invasion to be safely exported from three Ukrainian ports. The agreement, which was extended by 120 days in November, expires on Saturday.

Elsewhere, China’s Xi Jinping is believed to be planning a visit to Moscow, as soon as next week. Although there are also suggestions Mr. Xi could talk to Mr. Zelensky via video link. President Xi’s visit to Russia will be a major event for Putin, who portrays the war in Ukraine as a battle against the entire West. Moscow viewed Beijing as an ally, but a contact between Zelensky and Mr. Xi would certainly be a coup for Kiev.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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