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Ukrainian and Russian losses mount in fierce battle for Bakhmut

On the judicial front, the ICC is reportedly planning to seek the arrest of Russian officials for forcibly deporting children from Ukraine.

Fighting is fierce for control of central Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian troops say.

Ukraine said Monday that the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which it says controls the industrial city, is trying to penetrate Bakhmut, which has been the epicenter of fighting for months.

“Wagner assault units are advancing from different directions, trying to break through our troops’ defensive positions and moving towards the center of the city,” the Ukrainian army said at a morning briefing.

“In fierce battles, our defenders inflict significant casualties on the enemy,” it said.

Russian forces have captured eastern Bachmut, but have so far failed to encircle it.

“All enemy attempts to capture the city are repulsed by artillery, tanks and other firepower,” Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, told the Media Military Center.

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin acknowledged that his troops encountered determined resistance as they attempted to take control of the city centre.

“The situation in Bakhmut is difficult, very difficult. The enemy is fighting for every yard,” Prigozhin said in a social media post.

“The closer we get to the city center, the more difficult the fighting becomes and the more artillery there is. … Ukrainians throw endless reserves (into the fight),” said the billionaire.

Foreign military leaders have said the decimated city has little military value, but Ukraine has said its strategy to defend Bakhmut is to reduce Russia’s ability to launch a new offensive in the coming months and buy time to prepare his attempt to retake territory.

Bakhmut municipal officials told Ukrainian media that more than 4,000 people still live in the city, including 33 children.

The diplomatic front

As fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, Washington said an intended phone call between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not been confirmed.

According to US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Washington has publicly and privately encouraged Xi to talk to Zelenskyy so Beijing can hear “not just the Russian perspective” on the war.

The Wall Street Journal had reported that Xi planned to speak with Zelenskyy for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine.

People familiar with the proposed call said it is likely to take place after Xi visits Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, reflecting Beijing’s efforts to mediate the conflict.

A visit by Xi to Russia would be a big event for Putin, who portrays the war in Ukraine as a conflict against the combined power of the West.

But a video meeting with Zelenskyy could be an even bigger coup for the Ukrainians. They want Beijing to remain neutral rather than bolster support for Moscow, which depends on China to buy oil and gas it can no longer sell in Europe.

Zelenskyy summoned Xi to talk to him.

ICC seeks arrests of Russian officials

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) plans to seek the arrest of Russian officials for forcibly deporting children from Ukraine and attacking civilian infrastructure, a source told Reuters news agency on Monday. Such a development would be the first international war crimes to emerge from the invasion of Moscow.

The source said the arrest warrants could include the crime of genocide and are expected to come “shortly” if the prosecutor’s request is approved by a judge at the court in The Hague.

The ICC Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment and the Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Moscow would certainly reject any arrest warrant against any of its officials. But an international prosecution of war crimes could deepen Moscow’s diplomatic isolation and make it difficult for those accused to travel abroad.