(Reuters) – Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday denied reports that Ukrainian forces had broken through in various places along the front lines and said the military situation was under control.
Moscow reacted after Russian military bloggers, writing on Telegram, reported what they said were Ukrainian advances north and south of the city of Bakhmut, with some suggesting a long-awaited counter offensive by pro-Kyiv forces had started.
* President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion force had yet to start even as his generals claimed some of their biggest battlefield successes in months.
* A Ukrainian brigade commander fighting in the ruins of Bakhmut said Russian mercenary forces have stepped up shelling and artillery attacks in recent days and were not facing a munitions shortage, despite its chief’s claims to the contrary.
* Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Thursday that the situation on the flanks near the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was unfolding in line with the “worst of all expected scenarios”.
* A Ukrainian drone attacked an oil storage depot in the Russian border region of Bryansk, the local governor said on Thursday. There were no casualties.
* Russia’s military operation against Ukraine is “very difficult” but certain goals have been achieved, Tass news agency cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
BLACK SEA GRAIN DEAL
* Officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations on Thursday discussed U.N. proposals on a deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain, which Moscow has threatened to quit on May 18 over obstacles to its own grain and fertilizer exports.
* The United States envoy to South Africa said he was confident that a Russian ship had picked up weapons in South Africa, in a possible breach of Pretoria’s declared neutrality in the Ukraine conflict.
* South Africa has undertaken to institute an independent inquiry led by a retired judge into an alleged arms shipment to Russia, South Africa’s presidency said on Thursday.
* The United States has serious concerns about the docking of a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel at a South African naval port in December last year and has raised those concerns directly with multiple South African officials, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.
* The European Union has not observed any significant smuggling of weapons into Europe from wartime Ukraine, the European Commission’s top internal affairs official said during a visit to Kyiv.
* Britain has supplied Ukraine with Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles, a Western official said, which would allow its forces to hit Russian troops and logistics hubs deep behind the front line.
* Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican on Saturday, diplomatic sources said.
* Lawmakers accused the Pentagon of effectively undermining war crimes prosecution of Russia by blocking the sharing of U.S. military intelligence with the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
* Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday said he had approved a plan to reform criminal and law enforcement systems, a key element in plans to secure quick membership of the European Union.
* Ukraine raised record proceeds from selling small state assets in the first quarter of this year despite Russia’s invasion and aims to privatise thousands more in an economic overhaul, the head of the State Property Fund said.
* Two Russian soldiers from Kamchatka in the far east have been sentenced to two-and-a-half years each in prison for refusing to fight in Ukraine, human rights group OVD-Info said.
* INSIGHT-How Russians end up in a far-right militia fighting in Ukraine.
* EXCLUSIVE-Turkey defers $600 mln Russian energy payment -sources
* EXCLUSIVE-Oilfield firm SLB retrenches as Russia sanctions squeeze
* FOCUS-Why eastern Europe’s grain producers face a perfect storm
* INSIGHT-Ukraine farms lose workers to war, complicating tough harvest
* ANALYSIS-Russia’s mercenary boss deepens fog of Ukraine war while deflecting blame
* COLUMN-Global ammunition race may decide Ukraine war
(Compiled by Reuters editors; Editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean, Diane Craft)