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Ukraine war: Wagner 'recruiting in Moscow high schools for young warriors'

FILE: Visitors wearing military camouflage stand at the entrance of the 'PMC Wagner Centre', St Petersburg
FILE: Visitors wearing military camouflage stand at the entrance of the 'PMC Wagner Centre', St Petersburg Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Joshua Askew with AFP/AP
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Wagner recruitment, Bakhmut offensive and Russia's economy: here's our round-up of the key developments from Ukraine today.

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Russia's Wagner mercenary group have been trying to recruit in Moscow high schools, distributing questionnaires and collecting contact details of interested pupils who might want to become "young warriors," says the British Ministry of Defence. 

Wagner is also reportedly recruiting in dozens of sports centres across Russia. 

In its latest intelligence update, the MoD says that Wager Group's owner Yevgeny Prigozhin has "likely lost access to recruiting in Russian prisons," because of ongoing disputed with the Kremlin's military leadership. 

Wagner had been promising pardons to prisoners who signed up to fight in Ukraine, but the UK MoD says about half of those prisoners already deployed "have likely become casualties." 

"The new initiatives are unlikely to make up for the loss of the convict recruit pipeline," the MoD concludes.

Has Russia's Bakhmut offensive stalled?

Meanwhile Russia's offensive to capture the eastern Ukraine city of Bakhmut offensive appears to have stalled. 

The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said there were no recent confirmed advances by Russian forces, amid gritty fighting over the eastern Ukrainian city. 

There were, however, claims of Russian progress earlier in the week.   

The Russian army and units from the Wagner Group mercenary force continue to launch ground attacks into Bakhmut, but there was no evidence they were making any progress the ISW said. 

Citing the spokesperson of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the American think-tank said fighting in the city was growing more intense, reporting 23 clashes over the last 24 hours. 

Bakhmut, now squeezed to the north, south and east, has been subjected to a months-long bloody campaign by Moscow, inflicting devastating losses on both sides and civilians.

Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
Ukrainian self propelled howitzer 2s1 of 80 Air Assault brigade fires towards Russian forces at the frontline near Bakhmut, Ukraine, Friday, March 10, 2023.Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

The Kremlin has framed the old mining city -- home to 70,000 people before the war -- as highly strategic, saying its capture is key to seizing the prized Donbas region, though this is disputed by experts. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed not to retreat, despite Russian encroachment. 

On Saturday, Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Wagner troops had seized most of eastern Bakhmut, with a river flowing through the city now marking the front line of the fighting. 

It emphasised Russia’s assault will be hard to sustain without more significant personnel losses.

Ukraine's objective seems now to be to gain time while grinding down Russian forces. 

"We must gain time to accumulate reserves and launch a counter-offensive, which is not far off," said Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Oleksandre Syrsky.

He did not give any further details on the potential assault. 

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Russia's economy has 'weathered the storm' of sanctions

Western sanctions have hit Russian banks, wealthy individuals and technology imports. But after a year of far-reaching restrictions aimed at degrading Moscow’s war chest, economic life for ordinary Russians doesn’t look all that different than it did before the invasion of Ukraine.

There’s no mass unemployment, no plunging currency, no lines in front of failing banks. The assortment at the supermarket is little changed, with international brands still available or local substitutes taking their place.

Crowds might have thinned at some Moscow malls, but not drastically. Some foreign companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks have been taken over by local owners who slapped different names on essentially the same menu.

“Economically, nothing has changed,” said Vladimir Zharov, 53, who works in television. "I work as I used to work, I go shopping as I used to. Well, maybe the prices have risen a little bit, but not in such a way that it is very noticeable.”

Russia’s economy has weathered the West's unprecedented economic sanctions far better than expected. But with restrictions finally tightening on the Kremlin’s chief moneymaker -- oil -- the months ahead will be an even tougher test of President Vladimir Putin’s fortress economy.

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Economists say sanctions on Russian fossil fuels only now taking full effect — such as a price cap on oil — should eat into earnings that fund the military's attacks on Ukraine. Some analysts predict signs of trouble — strained government finances or a sinking currency — could emerge in the coming months.

But other economists say the Kremlin has significant reserves of money that haven’t been hit by sanctions, while links to new trade partners in Asia have quickly taken shape. They say Russia isn’t likely to run out of money this year but instead will face a slow slide into years of economic stagnation.

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