#UKRAINERUSSIAWAR. Putin suspends START. Bachmut: AZA Foundries in WAGNER’s crosshairs


Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Russian Federal Assembly at 10:00 am Italian time on 21 February had been expected since before Christmas. Today Putin behind closed doors meets the Duma and the Security Council for unscheduled meetings. The summary of his speech to the Federal Assembly is now known; the recurring themes were: the suspension of participation in START, a nuclear weapons test, a special support fund, the front, the economy.

Here are the most important fragments of the message from the head of state of the Russian Federation: ‘Russia has unilaterally suspended participation in the contract on strategic offensive weapons. The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation and Rosatom should be prepared for Russian nuclear weapons testing, but Russia will not be the first to test it until the US does. The President has proposed creating a special fund for the prompt support of the families of the fallen and veterans of the Ukrainian campaign; the participants in turn should be provided with a regular leave of 14 days (not including the frontline-home commute) at least once a year; Russia will not retaliate against its citizens who have chosen to renounce their homeland, but those who have taken the path of treason and terrorism will be responsible for their actions against the country; the longer Western weapons systems enter Ukraine, the further we will push the threat away from our borders; there is a moral decay in the West that is trying to spread throughout the world – contempt for all things Russian is legalised to the point of paedophilia, and priests are imposing blessings on same-sex marriages, even though the family, according to the Holy Scriptures, is the union of a man and a woman; it is important to create additional conditions for citizens to earn and buy houses, within the country. In this case, it is necessary to guarantee the security of citizens’ savings, there should be the same mechanism as the bank deposit insurance system’.

And Putin, again, proposed the professional and specialised return to the higher education system, the graduate school will become a separate block will return to the six-year university. Putin urged businessmen to invest in the country, close down their activities abroad. At the same time, he noted the need to review convictions for economic crimes. For years, Putin has made the fight against corruption a political banner.

As for the domestic economy: ‘From January 2024, the minimum wage will be increased to 19.2 thousand roubles, and he announced an increase in tax deductions for education and medicine. On the territory of new regions, the maternity capital programme will be introduced, and ‘retroactively’ for families in which children have been born since 2007 (the same year the programme began operating in the Russian Federation). The development of the cultural sphere will become one of the priority areas for the revival of peaceful life in the Donbass and New Russia; Russia will continue to work on a secure and stable system of international settlements regardless of the dollar”.

Russia therefore looks beyond the conflict and the sanctions imposed with the prospect of moving ever closer to the East and South East Asia. And certainly the presence of the Chinese Communist Party’s top leadership in Moscow in recent days looks in this direction.

The new strategic axis for Putin and Russia is: Moscow-Beijing-New Delhi-Brazil-Pretoria-Tehran. It is in fact from the BRICS that Moscow expects an economic renaissance, closing the door to Europe once and for all. Putin himself said in his speech on economy and foreign relations: ‘This will expand and deepen cooperation with China, India, Iran and other friendly countries’.

The head of the State Duma Committee for International Relations Leonid Slutsky said the ratification of the START suspension would be done today.

Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni arrived in Kiev on 21 February. According to Ukrainian media reports, the Italian premier will visit Bucha and Irpen. At a press conference in the afternoon, she announced Italian military assistance for Ukraine. As we are closing the today edition, the press conference has just begun.

And while Vladimir Putin was speaking at the Federal Assembly, a Beech 300 Super King Air 350i tactical reconnaissance drone patrolled in Romania’s airspace, reconnaissance of its area, the territory of the Crimean Peninsula and the Black Sea. According to the Russians, the reconnaissance of these drones will be used to give the Ukrainians the opportunity to plan the attack in Crimea for next spring.

WAGNER units are approaching the industrial zone in northern Bakhmut. At the very least, the Artyomovsk – Aza Foundries (i.e. the Bakhmutsky plant for non-ferrous metals), which, in terms of the complexity of the assault, can be compared to Azovstal.

The company in fact has underground communications and mines ten metres deep, which can become a shelter for personnel and equipment. The WAGNER group wrote on the social sphere that the experience in the eastern periphery of the Bakhmut and Soledar mines suggests that it is unlikely that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will leave the AZA plants without a fight. “The enemy (Ukrainian Armed Forces ed.) always tries to cling to such objects, using them as fortresses”.

There are also battles in Berkhovka, in the centre of the village. For the past four days, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been carrying out intensive artillery shelling in the Suzhan and Glushkov districts of the Kursk region. The localities of Gornal ‘, Guevo and Krasnooktyabr’skiy are suffering from power problems due to this shelling.

In the Belgorod region, the long municipal district of Shebekinsky came under fire from Ukrainian formations. Civilian infrastructure in Novaya Tavolzhanka and Voznesenovka was damaged. One woman was killed.

In the Kup’yans sector, the Ukrainians launched a counter-attack on Russian positions in Hryanykivka now in Russian hands. The advanced AFU units were dispersed by targeted artillery fire.

Russian forces continue an operation to surround Bachmut on its northern and southern flanks. The deeply entrenched defences of the Ukrainian military are attacked by provoking artillery fire and using assault units.

In the northern periphery, Wagner units broke through the Ukrainian defences and moved into the Yahidne periphery. At the same time, Russian troops penetrated deeper into the defence of the Ukrainian formations near Stuppy Station. In the south-west, Russian units are fighting on the outskirts of Krasne and in the Budenivka area. The advance forces are supported by artillery and aviation.

Ukrainian formations again attacked residential areas of the Donetsk agglomeration. In the capital of the Donetsk People’s Republic, residential buildings and infrastructure in different parts of the city were hit, and one civilian died.

Graziella Giangiulio

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