(Reuters) – Russia said its forces had taken control of the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, claiming Moscow’s first big battlefield gain in half a year, but Kyiv said its troops were still fighting in the town.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the situation.
* “The capture of Soledar was made possible by the constant bombardment of the enemy by assault and army aviation, missile forces and artillery of a grouping of Russian forces,” Moscow’s defence ministry said.
* Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, and a Ukrainian officer in the area both told Reuters Soledar had not been captured. “Last night artillery fire was like from hell, both sides. From what I know, our boys have managed to exit some parts in an orderly manner and now (assault) groups are counterattacking, but we still hold the town,” the officer said by telephone.
* Ultra-nationalist mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group of fighters-for-hire includes prisoners promised pardons for service, complained after the military took credit for the battle without mentioning his fighters.
* Ukrainian officials said on Thursday more than 500 civilians were trapped inside Soledar, including 15 children.
* Moscow’s February invasion of Ukraine has resulted in more than 50,000 reports of alleged war crimes, Ukraine’s top war crimes prosecutor Yuriy Belousov said, as grim details of the alleged torture emerged.
* France is hoping to deliver ‘AMX 10-RC’ light combat tanks to Ukraine in two months’ time, French armed forces minister Sebastien Lecornu said.
* A Russian foreign ministry official said Belarus may enter the conflict in Ukraine if Kyiv decides to “invade” either country. Russia used Belarus as a springboard to invade Ukraine in February 2022, and since October has deployed troops in Belarus for joint military drills. But the border area is now heavily waterlogged, making an imminent Russian attack unlikely.
* Kremlin-watchers are examining Russia’s latest switch of battlefield leadership after Valery Gerasimov, chief of the military’s general staff, was unexpectedly given direct command of the invasion.
* A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested confiscating property and assets of Russians who discredit the country’s armed forces and oppose the war in Ukraine.
* China’s exports and imports with Russia hit a new high of 1.28 trillion yuan in 2022, Lyu Daliang, spokesperson of the General Administration of Customs, told a news briefing in Beijing. Trade with Russia accounted for 3% of China’s total for the year, he added.
(Compiled by Grant McCool and Michael Perry; Editing by Kim Coghill and Philippa Fletcher)