Russian forces make ‘creeping gains’ in Donbas as Putin warned ‘no time limit’ on war crime arrest warrant

 A Ukranian serviceman walks among debris after a strike in the town of Chasiv Yar, in the region of Donbas on March 16  (AFP via Getty Images)
A Ukranian serviceman walks among debris after a strike in the town of Chasiv Yar, in the region of Donbas on March 16 (AFP via Getty Images)

Russian forces are making “creeping gains" in some Ukrainian-held areas of Donbas, British Defence Chiefs said on Monday, as a war crimes prosecutor warned there would be no time limit on an international arrest warrant issued for Vladimir Putin.

Over the weekend Putin made a visit to Mariupol, his first to the Russian-occupied parts of eastern Ukraine since the war began.

In a briefing on Monday morning, the Ministry of Defence said: “Over the past three weeks, Russian forces have made creeping gains around the Ukrainian-held Donbas town of Avdiivka, immediately north of Donetsk city."

It added: “The Russian operation has largely been carried out by the 1st Army Corps of the Donetsk People’s Republic., local personnel who will know the terrain well.

“Avdiivka has been on the front line of the Donbas conflict since 2014; the city is now largely destroyed."

Putin made a surprise visit to Russian-occupied Mariupol on Saturday, a day after being accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court,

The city has been the scene of some of the worst devastation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Hundreds were killed in the destruction of a theatre there where families with children were sheltering.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE) has said Russia's earlier bombing of a Mariupol maternity hospital was a war crime.

Moscow has denied the claims and said it does not target civilians.

It comes as ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said arrest warrants for war crimes linked to the attack on Ukraine will not expire, even if the conflict ends.

The ICC issued a warrant for Putin’s detention last week, accusing him of bearing personal responsibility for the abduction of children from Ukraine.

“There’s no statute of limitations for war crimes,” Mr Khan told BBC Radio 4.

“That’s one of the principles of Nuremberg, and individuals - wherever they are in the world - need to realise the law is present and there are responsibilities that come with authority.”

A warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, was also issued by the ICC.

Asked if the permits would stay with Putin or Lvova-Belova for the rest of their lives, Mr Khan said “absolutely yes”.

He added: “Unless they present themselves to the independent judges of the court and the judges, on the merits, decide to dismiss a case but otherwise, absolutely, yes.”

The Met’s War Crimes Team, which is part of the force’s Counter Terrorism Command, has been gathering evidence in relation to alleged war crimes in Ukraine in support of the ICC investigation.

Since the launch of the investigation last year, the team has received more than 100 referrals, which are in the process of being assessed by specialist detectives.

China's President Xi Jinping arrived in Russia on Monday to hold talks with Putin.

Mr Xi has attempted to portray China as neutral in the conflict, but declared the two countries had a “no-limits friendship” before Russia launched its invasion in February 2022.