US European Command on Thursday issued a video which it says shows the moment of impact when a Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea, causing the latter to be ditched into the water. The footage, which lasts 42 seconds, shows aircraft making two extremely close passes to the drone, before the image breaks up. A senior US official said the footage “absolutely confirms” that there was a physical collision and dumping of fuel, but that it does not confirm whether it was the Russian pilot’s intent and whether they meant to strike the US drone’s propeller.
The Kremlin said a decision on whether to retrieve the downed US MQ-9 Reaper drone from the Black Sea will come from the Russian military. “If they deem it necessary to do that in the Black Sea for our interests and for our security, they will deal with that,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday. US officials said the debris could be in such deep water that recovery is impossible, and would have no real intelligence value.
The Russian and US defence ministers and military chiefs held rare phone conversations on Wednesday to discuss the incident. Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu told his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Wednesday that operating drone flights near Crimea was provocative and could lead to an escalation, the Russian defence ministry said. Russia, the statement said, “had no interest in such a development but will in future react in due proportion”.
Austin declined to offer any details on the call, including whether he criticised the Russian intercept. But he reiterated at a news conference that the US intended to continue flying where international law allowed and demanded Russian military aircraft operate in a safe and professional manner.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said that the incident was “being investigated”. Blinken declined to speak to the motive or intent behind the incident, saying he would let the investigation proceed and that the US is “in close coordination” with allies and partners on the matter.
The UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, accused Russia of acting “unprofessionally”. Wallace’s comments reflecedt an emerging western view that the extraordinary mid-air incident was a one-off, not immediately meriting anything stronger than diplomatic complaints.
The Kremlin said earlier on Wednesday that relations with the US were in a “lamentable state” and at their lowest level, after the incident with the drone.
Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, has said his country will be handing over four MIG-29 planes to Ukraine in the coming days. “Firstly, literally within the next few days, we will hand over, as far as I remember, four aircraft to Ukraine in full working order. The rest are being prepared, serviced,” Duda said at a news conference on Thursday. His announcement makes Poland the first Nato member country to fulfil Kyiv’s increasingly urgent requests for warplanes.
Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed leader in occupied Donetsk, told state-owned news agency Tass on Thursday that he does not see any signs Ukraine is withdrawing from Bakhmut. He is quoted as saying “In Bakhmut, the situation remains complicated, difficult, that is, we do not see that there are any prerequisites there that the enemy is going to simply withdraw units”. He claimed, however, that Ukrainian forces were finding it difficult to supply ammunition, food or reinforcements, as the road into Bakhmut from the Ukrainian side is “even more significantly under the fire control of the Wagner mercenary group.”
Oleh Synyehubov, governor of Kharkiv, reports that the Russian military destroyed and damaged private houses and infrastructure facilities in two settlements in the Kharkiv region overnight.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy has posted to Telegram to commemorate a year since the Mariupol theatre bombing. Ukraine’s president wrote: “A year ago, Russia deliberately and brutally dropped a powerful bomb on the Drama Theatre in Mariupol. Next to the building was the inscription ‘Children’, which was impossible to overlook. Hundreds of people were hiding from the shelling there. Step by step, we are moving towards ensuring that the terrorist state is fully held to account for what it has done to our country and our people.”
A Russian soldier who confessed to killing a civilian in Ukraine last year has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison by a military court in Russia’s far east on charges of spreading “fake news” about the army. In an interview with the independent news outlet Istories last August, Daniil Frolkin, 21, said he shot and killed a male civilian in Andriivka, a village near Kyiv that was occupied by Russian forces shortly after the start of the invasion. Frolkin is the first known soldier to be sentenced by Russia after admitting to killing civilians. The move is widely seen as a way to deter other servicemen from speaking out.
The former mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, has been detained over a social media post in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Yevgeny Roizman, one of the last opposition figures still in Russia and not behind bars, is already awaiting trial on charges of “discrediting” the Russian army.
Both Tass and RIA are reporting that there is a fire at the border department of Russia’s federal security service in Rostov-on-Don. Some news sources are reporting that witness heard explosions or an explosion before the fire began.
State-owned news agency Tass is reporting that Russia’s education minister Sergey Kravtsov has confirmed that he expects by the beginning of the academic year Russian schools will have a new history textbook for high school pupils with a section on the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Poland claims to have broken up a Russian espionage network operating in the country. Broadcaster RMF reported on Wednesday that Polish security services had detained six people suspected of spying for Russia. According to the broadcaster the group had been planning sabotage activities. Defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak on Thursday said “I would like to emphasise the great success achieved by the officers of the internal security agency, because the whole spy network has been unravelled.”
The British foreign minister, James Cleverly, said on Thursday that the best way to protect Moldova from attack by Russia was to protect Ukraine.
Ukrainian ground forces shot down a Russian fighter jet near the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut on Wednesday, a Ukrainian official has said. Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, also said Kyiv’s forces had made gains in northern parts of the city.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian mercenary Wagner group, said Russian forces had taken control of the settlement of Zaliznyanskoye on Wednesday and are expanding the encirclement of Bakhmut. Neither side’s claims of success in what has become the longest-running battle since the war began could be verified.
Ex-Soviet Moldova is no longer receiving Russian gas or enduring the “blackmail” imposed by gas giant Gazprom over its difficulties in paying for supplies, the country’s energy minister said. Victor Parlicov, speaking to TV8 television on Wednesday evening, said Gazprom had been providing supplies only to Moldova’s Russian-backed Transnistria separatist region since December, with none going to central authorities in Chisinau.
Russia’s defence ministry will start a new recruitment campaign on 1 April, with the aim of recruiting 400,000 professional soldiers to the Russian army, according to a report. Russian military recruitment offices are trying to compensate for its losses in specialised soldiers, such as tank drivers and artillerymen, according to a separate report.
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