The fallout from an encounter between a US drone and Russian fighter jets on Tuesday continues to be monitored closely, just as another incident between NATO countries and Russia was recorded, with British and German fighter jets scrambled to escort a Russian aircraft away from Estonian airspace.
Tuesday’s drone incident marked the first time Russian and US military aircraft have come into direct physical contact since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine just over a year ago, and is likely to increase tensions between the two nations, with the US calling Russia’s actions “reckless, environmentally unsound, and unprofessional.”
Russia said on Wednesday that it would try to retrieve the remnants of a US drone that crashed into the Black Sea.
The large MQ-9 Reaper drone plunged into the water on Tuesday. The US said it brought down the damaged drone after it became “unflyable” when a Russian jet clipped its propeller – but Moscow has denied these claims.
Speaking on state television, Russian security council secretary Nikolai Patrushev confirmed Moscow was attempting to find the aircraft. “I don’t know whether we’ll be able to retrieve it or not but it has to be done,” Patrushev said.
He also said that the drone’s presence in the Black Sea was “confirmation” that the US was directly involved in the war.
Senior Washington official John Kirby said the US was also searching for the aircraft, but stressed that if Russia beat them to it, “their ability to exploit useful intelligence will be highly minimized.”
That message was reiterated by General Mark Milley, America’s top military general, who said the US had taken “mitigating measures” to ensure there was nothing of value on the downed drone.
He said it would be challenging to retrieve the drone, noting the water where it crashed was anywhere between 1,200m to 1,500m deep.
US military officials said the incident happened on Tuesday morning and the confrontation lasted around 30-40 minutes.
In a statement, the US said Russian jets dumped fuel on the drone several times before the collision.
Pentagon spokesman Brig Gen Pat Ryder told reporters the drone was “unflyable and uncontrollable”, adding the collision also likely damaged the Russian aircraft.
Russia has denied its two Su-27 fighter jets made any contact with the US drone.
Kremlin: Relations with US in dire state after drone incident
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that relations with the United States were in a “lamentable state” and at their lowest level, after Washington accused Russia of downing one of its reconnaissance drones over the Black Sea.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that there had been no high-level contact with Washington over the incident, but said Russia would never refuse to engage in constructive dialogue.
Russian mercenary leader claims further encirclement of Bakhmut
The head of Russia’s mercenary force — the private military company known as the Wagner Group, fighting for control of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, said Wednesday that Russian forces have taken control of a village to the north of the city.
“Assault detachments are expanding the encirclement of Bakhmut. This morning, the settlement of Zaliznyanskoe [known in Ukraine as Zaliznyans’ke] was taken by assault detachments of PMC Wagner,” Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio comment on his business’ Telegram channel that was reported by Russian state news agency TASS.
Bakhmut remains the hottest spot in the war in Ukraine today, with intense battles between Ukrainian forces trying to defend the city against regular Russian units and mercenary forces within the Wagner Group. Both sides are claiming they are inflicting significant personnel losses on the other on a daily basis.
Russian forces claim to control all paved roads into the city and analysts say they surround the city to the north, east and south. Ukraine has vowed to defend Bakhmut to the last, despite doubts over the merits of that strategy.
Kyiv is seen to want Russia to expend its manpower on fighting in Bakhmut while it awaits more weaponry from its international allies which will enable it to launch a renewed counteroffensive in spring.
Missile attack on Kharkiv city damages school, officials say
A Russian missile attack on the city of Kharmiv in northeast Ukraine has damaged a school building and infrastructure, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday.
“A shell landed near the school, the building was partially damaged and the windows were broken. There were no casualties,” Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian President’s Office, said on Telegram.
Separately, Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, said on Telegram today that the city’s civilian infrastructure had been targeted in a strike, without providing further details of what location had been struck.
“The enemy once again struck the city’s civilian infrastructure. According to preliminary data, there were no casualties. Emergency services work at the scene. The destruction scale is being clarified,” he said on Telegram.
Russia says it does not target civilian infrastructure, but there have been repeated strikes on energy infrastructure, civil infrastructure like schools, hospitals and theaters, as well as residential buildings.
Five ships leave Ukraine under Black Sea Grain Initiative
Five ships carrying 183,543 metric tons of grain and other agricultural products left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk and Odesa ports this week.
The ships are destined for China, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, and are carrying corn, barley and wheat.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered last July between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, eased Russia’s naval blockade and saw three key Ukrainian ports reopen.
So far, more than 700 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports.