Russia has denied reports by pro-Russian military bloggers and the head of the mercenary group Wagner about a breakthrough by the Ukrainian army in the embattled city of Bakhmut. "The individual statements on Telegram about a 'breakthrough' in several places on the front line do not correspond to reality," the Ministry of Defense in Moscow said on Thursday evening.

Several pro-Russian bloggers following the situation on the ground had expressed concern on Thursday evening about Ukrainian troop movements and positions abandoned by Russian soldiers, especially near Bakhmut, the main theater of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

According to a war correspondent for Russian state television, Russian troops in Bakhmut are on high alert. Because of the Ukrainian successes in the attack on the flanks of the Wagner mercenary troop fighting in the city, there is a threat of a comprehensive encirclement, Yevgeny Poddubny wrote on Telegram on Thursday. Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin had previously warned several times of an imminent cauldron due to unsecured flanks.

Ukrainian army spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi reported in the evening of desperate attempts by Russian units to stop the further advance of the Ukrainians with massive artillery strikes and air strikes. The intensity of the fighting has increased, Cherevatyi said, according to the Unian agency. On Thursday alone, 165 Russian soldiers were killed and another 216 wounded, he claimed. His statements could not be verified, nor could those of the other side.

Fight at Soledar too

Prominent war correspondent Yevgeny Poddubny also reported Ukrainian breakthroughs in fighting around Soledar, which is located just a few kilometers northeast of Bakhmut. There, according to him, Ukrainian battle groups managed to break through the Russian lines. "The situation is difficult," Poddubny wrote. Russian forces had only taken Soledar at the end of January after weeks of heavy fighting.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant could be spared from fighting in the event of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, according to the operator. It is enough to cut off the Russian occupying troops at the power plant from the hinterland, said the head of the Ukrainian nuclear company Enerhoatom, Petro Kotin, the US broadcaster CNN. "We only need to cut the connection between the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the (Black Sea peninsula) Crimea," Kotin said. This will be achieved as soon as Ukrainian troops have conquered the city of Melitopol, a good 90 kilometers southeast of the power plant in Enerhodar. After that, the Russian troops would only have the option of fleeing or surrendering.

Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Enerhodar, with six units, was occupied immediately after the Russian invasion in March last year.

Swiss parliament wants to revise war material law

After massive criticism from abroad, the Swiss parliament wants to ease the current ban on the transfer of Swiss war material to third countries. On Thursday, the responsible committee in the Council of States, the second chamber of parliament, voted eight to five in favour of this. The National Council's committee had already voted in favour of it. This means that an amendment to the War Material Act can now be tackled.

Switzerland currently prohibits the transfer of war material that it has sold abroad to countries in armed conflicts. This is currently hindering supplies to Ukraine. For example, Switzerland denied Germany permission to send Swiss ammunition for the German Gepard tank purchased years ago to Ukraine.

Reports: Zelenskyy could visit Rome and Vatican over the weekend

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is considering a visit to Rome over the weekend, according to Italian media reports. There he could meet Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and also be received by Pope Francis, it was said on Thursday evening, among other things, at the news agency Ansa. This cited sources in the government as well as within the Vatican. There were no official confirmations. Most recently, it was also expected that the Ukrainian president would come to Berlin towards the end of the week.

For Ukraine's path to the European Union, Zelensky has drawn up a "comprehensive strategic plan" to reform the criminal law and law enforcement system. "Put simply, we need to ensure a system of law and order for our country that is consistent with our goal of Ukraine's rapid accession to the EU," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Thursday.

"Ukraine should become, and already is, a place of strength for Europe and the entire free world." The state must ensure the highest level of security, freedom and respect for the law and for the people of Ukraine, Zelensky stressed. Ukraine has been an official candidate for EU membership since last summer.