On the judicial front, ICC reportedly planning to seek the arrest of Russian officials for forcibly deporting children from Ukraine.
Fierce fighting is raging for control of the centre of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian forces say, as both sides claim battlefield successes in the longest running and bloodiest battle of Moscow’s invasion.
Ukraine said on Monday that Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which has said it is leading Moscow’s charge for the industrial city, was trying to push forward in Bakhmut, which has been the epicentre of fighting for months.
“Wagner assault units are advancing from several directions, trying to break through our troops’ defensive positions and move to the centre of the city,” the Ukrainian military said in a morning briefing.
“In fierce battles, our defenders are inflicting significant losses on the enemy,” it said.
Russian forces have captured eastern Bakhmut but so far have failed to encircle it.
“All enemy attempts to capture the town are repelled by artillery, tanks and other firepower,” Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, was quoted as saying by its Media Military Centre.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin acknowledged that his forces were coming up against determined resistance as they seek to take control of the city centre.
“The situation in Bakhmut is difficult, very difficult. The enemy is battling for every metre,” Prigozhin said in a post on social media.
“The closer we are to the city centre, the more difficult the battles get and the more artillery there is. … Ukrainians are throwing endless reserves [at the fight],” the billionaire said.
Foreign military leaders have said the decimated city has little military value, but Ukraine has said its strategy of defending Bakhmut is to degrade Russia’s ability to launch a further offensive in the coming months and buy time to ready its attempt to recapture ground.
Bakhmut municipal officials told Ukrainian media that more than 4,000 people were still living in the city, including 33 children.
The diplomatic front
As the fighting grinds on in eastern Ukraine, Washington said a proposed 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 been publicly and privately encouraging 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 would likely occur after Xi visits Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and reflects Beijing’s efforts to mediate in the conflict.
A visit by Xi to Russia would be a major event for Putin, who portrays the war in Ukraine as a conflict against the combined might 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 firm up support for Moscow, which relies on China to buy oil and gas it can no longer sell in Europe.
Zelenskyy has called on Xi to speak to him.
ICC seeks arrests of Russian officials
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is planning to seek the arrests of Russian officials for forcibly deporting children from Ukraine and targeting civilian infrastructure, a source told the Reuters news agency on Monday. Such a development would represent the first international war crimes cases to arise from Moscow’s invasion.
The source said the arrest warrants could include the crime of genocide and were expected to arrive in the “short term” if the court prosecutor’s request was approved by a judge at The Hague-based court.
The office of the ICC prosecutor declined to comment, and Russia’s Ministry of Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moscow would be certain to reject any arrest warrants against any of its officials. But an international war crimes prosecution could deepen Moscow’s diplomatic isolation and make it difficult for those accused to travel abroad.