British and German fighter jets intercept Russian aircraft near Estonian airspace
From CNN's Jessie Gretener in London
British and German fighter jets jointly intercepted a Russian aircraft near Estonian airspace on Tuesday, according to the UK Ministry of Defense.
The ministry said Royal Air Force (RAF) typhoon jets from the 140 Expeditionary Air Wing worked with German typhoon jets to escort a Russian IL78 Midas air-to-air refueling aircraft after it failed to respond to air traffic control in Estonia.
The Russian plane was flying between St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave that sits between Poland and Lithuania along the Baltic Sea.
While such interceptions are a routine NATO mission, it was the RAF’s first joint NATO air policing interception alongside a German air force typhoon.
4:31 a.m. ET, March 15, 2023
Russia to hold joint military exercises with China and Iran, Beijing says
From CNN's Beijing bureau
China, Iran and Russia will begin joint military exercises in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday, China's Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
The drills between the three countries' armies and navies will run through Sunday, the statement said.
The statement said the exercises would build on joint maritime drills between the three nations held in 2019 and 2022.
Remember: China has forged a "no limits" partnership with Russia during Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, with deepening diplomatic and economic ties between the two. Western officials have also previously raised concerns that China may be considering providing Russia with lethal military assistance, an accusation denied by Beijing.
Meanwhile, Moscow's growing defense partnership with Tehran has intensified over the past year as Russia has become increasingly desperate for external military support for its war against Ukraine.
2:38 a.m. ET, March 15, 2023
Analysis: The two biggest 2024 Republican names would mean bad news for Ukraine
Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson
Russia might be bogged down in its vicious onslaught on Ukraine, but President Vladimir Putin is winning big elsewhere — in the Republican presidential primary.
The two highest-polling potential GOP nominees — former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — are making clear that if they make it to the White House, Ukraine’s lifeline of US weapons and ammunition would be in danger and the war could end on Putin’s terms. Their stands underscore rising antipathy among grassroots conservatives to the war and President Joe Biden’s marshaling of the West to bankroll Kyiv’s resistance to Putin’s unprovoked invasion.
“The death and destruction must end now!” Trump wrote in replies to a questionnaire from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson about the war and US involvement. DeSantis, answering the same questions, countered with his most unequivocal signal yet that he’d downgrade US help for Ukraine if he wins the presidency. “We cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defense of our own homeland,” he wrote.
Trump’s warnings that only he can stop World War III and DeSantis’ main argument that saving Ukraine is not a core US national security interest will likely gain even more traction following one of the most alarming moments yet in the war on Tuesday. The apparent downing of a US drone by a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea was a step closer to the scenario that everyone has dreaded since the war erupted a year ago — a direct clash between US and Russian forces.
DeSantis saying Ukraine support is not "vital" national interest sparks backlash in GOP
From CNN's Jack Forrest,
Several key Republican senators on Tuesday pushed back against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent comments that US support for Ukraine is not a “vital” national interest, exposing a key intraparty fault line ahead of the 2024 election.
“To say this doesn’t matter is to say that war crimes don’t matter,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression will “go beyond Ukraine” and that “if you don’t get that, you’re not listening to what he’s saying.”
On Monday, DeSantis, who has not yet announced a presidential bid, said in a statement responding to a questionnaire from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that “while the US has many vital national interests … becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”
“We cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defense of our own homeland, especially as tens of thousands of Americans are dying every year from narcotics smuggled across our open border and our weapons arsenals critical for our own security are rapidly being depleted,” DeSantis wrote in response to Carlson’s request for 2024 GOP presidential candidates to provide their views on the war in Ukraine.
A Russian jet forced down a US drone over international waters. Here's what you need to know
From CNN staff
A Russian fighter jet forced down a US Air Force drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday after damaging the propeller of a MQ-9 Reaper drone, according to US officials. The drone was flying over international waters when one of two Russian jets intentionally flew in front of and dumped fuel on the unmanned drone several times, according to the US European Command.
Russia has pushed back, denying that its jets came "into contact" with the drone. The Russian Ambassador to the US said Russia does not want “confrontation” with the US but "as we see it, American aircraft have no business being near the Russian border."
Here's what to know:
US-Russia drone intervention: A Russian jet downed a US drone over the Black Sea. Aircraft from both countries have operated over the Black Sea during the course of the war, but this is the first known such interaction, a potentially dangerous escalation at a critical time in the fighting. The incident prompted US officials to express "strong objections" to diplomats. Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder called it "uncommon and unfortunate and unsafe." President Joe Biden and US allies have been briefed, according to the White House and the Pentagon.
Russian response: Moscow has pushed back, denying that its fighter jets came "into contact" with the US drone. Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said Russia does not want a "confrontation" with the US, but the craft was too close to the Russian border. The drone has not been recovered, a spokesperson for US European Command said.
Latest from the front lines: Russian strikes across the Donetsk region have killed at least three people. In Bakhmut, social media posts appear to confirm fighting around the AZOM metallurgical plant in the north of the city. The intensity of shelling in the city has increased, a Ukrainian soldier said on Ukrainian television. Wagner units appear to be making limited advances but remain well short of encircling Bakhmut. In southern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said it destroyed four Russian missiles that were headed toward Odesa.
Update on Western aid: Ukrainian soldiers have nearly completed their training on Leopard 2 battle tanks in Munster, Germany, according to a spokesperson for the special training command. Once the training is finished, Germany can deploy the Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, the spokesperson said. Germany has so far vowed to supply Ukraine with 18 of the latest A6 model Leopard 2 tanks. Additionally, the Netherlands announced it will send two minesweepers, drone detection radar systems and ferrying and bridge-building systems to Ukraine, according to Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren.
Russian ambassador says US aircraft have no business being near Russian border
From CNN's Josh Pennington and Radina Gigova
Anatoly Antonov, the Russian Ambassador to the US, said Tuesday that Russia does not want “confrontation” with the US but "as we see it, American aircraft have no business being near the Russian border."
"Can you imagine the reaction of the US press, the Pentagon, to this drone? What kind of drone was it? Think about this before summoning me to the State Department. It's a multipurpose [drone], with strike capabilities of up to a 1,700 kilograms explosive payload," he said. "Tell me how any MoD of any country would react to the threat of such danger appearing along their borders?"
Antonov did say he wanted to point out "how professional the Russian pilots were in their actions. No contact was made, nor were any weapons used by our fighter jets."
"I think it's better that we discuss at the State Department avenues of cooperation and mutual action, but unfortunately, my communication with the State Department lately has just been to address their protests about the actions of the Russian Federation," he said. "The Russian Federation is not interested in confrontation. The Russian side is interested in pragmatic relations with the USA in the interests of both the Russian and American people."
Some background: The Reaper drone was flying over international waters when one of two Russian jets intentionally flew in front of and dumped fuel on the unmanned drone several times, according to the US European Command. The aircraft then hit the propeller of the drone, prompting US forces to bring the MQ-9 drone down in international waters.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder added Tuesday that the Russian aircraft flew “in the vicinity” of the drone for 30 to 40 minutes before colliding just after 7 a.m. Central European Time.
8:45 p.m. ET, March 14, 2023
Transfer of jets to Ukraine may happen within next 6 weeks, Polish prime minister says
From CNN's Alex Hardie and Niamh Kennedy
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday that a transfer of Poland's supply of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine “might happen within the next four to six weeks.”
Morawiecki made the remark while answering questions from reporters in Warsaw.
It comes after Polish President Andrzej Duda told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in a late February interview that Ukrainian pilots were "prepared to operate" MiG-29 fighter jets.
Ukrainian pilots however will likely need more training to "be ready to fly modern aircraft at NATO standards, such as F-16s," Duda said, emphasizing that the "training of a pilot is much more complicated and much longer [than the training of a tank operator].”
Duda told CNN that modern weapons are "key" to shoring up Ukraine's ability to defend itself from Russia. When asked if that includes fighter jets, he responded: “If there is such a need, of course, yes.”
4:42 a.m. ET, March 15, 2023
US taking steps to ensure drone won't end up in the wrong hands, White House official says
From CNN's Betsy Klein
The US is taking measures to ensure the drone that was downed over the Black Sea won't fall into the wrong hands, a top White House official said Tuesday.
“Without getting into too much detail, what I can say is that we've taken steps to protect our equities with respect to that particular drone — that particular aircraft. And it’s the United States property. We obviously don't want to see anybody getting their hands on it beyond us,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday.
Pressed on whether the US would show evidence to back its account of what happened – given Russia’s denial — Kirby noted the US is “looking at some imagery to see if any of that might be suitable” for public release, but said no decisions have been made at this time.
He also dismissed the denial issued by Russia's defense ministry.
“Obviously we refute the Russians' denial and I think anybody, after a year now, Jake, should take everything that the Russians say about what they're doing in and around Ukraine with a huge grain of salt,” he said.
Kirby pointed to the summoning of Russia’s Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov to the State Department as “one of the advantages of having diplomatic lines open,” saying that in the meeting, US officials walked the ambassador “through the very significant and very real concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional conduct by Russian pilots.”
He reiterated his condemnation of the incident, warning of immediate and broader implications.
“We certainly don’t want to see this war escalate beyond what it has already done to the Ukrainian people,” Kirby said, calling it “inappropriate, unsafe, unprofessional conduct by the Russian pilots.”
8:42 p.m. ET, March 14, 2023
Russia does not want confrontation with US, Moscow's ambassador says
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
Russia does not want “confrontation” with the US, Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said Tuesday after he was summoned to the State Department following an incident that led to the downing of a US Reaper drone over the Black Sea.
“We prefer not to create a situation where we can face unintended clashes or unintended incidents between the Russian Federation and the United States,” Antonov said.
He was inside the State Department for a little over half an hour. Antonov said Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried conveyed the US’ concerns about the incident, and he “exchanged our remarks on this issue because we have some differences.”
“It seems to me that it was a constructive conversation on this issue. I have heard her remarks, I hope that she has understood what I have mentioned,” Antonov said in response to a question from CNN.