March 16, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

us drone russian jet video
US releases video of Russian fighter jet forcing down reaper drone
01:09 - Source: CNN

What we covered here

  • Poland will transfer four of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in the coming days, the Polish president said, becoming the first NATO member to fulfill Kyiv’s repeated requests for aircraft to counter Russian attacks.
  • The US is conducting an assessment of its drone operations in the Black Sea area, weighing the costs and benefits of the flights, several officials told CNN. It follows the release of declassified video of the Tuesday encounter between a US drone and a Russian fighter jet.
  • Russia may have recovered some small pieces of debris from the drone, according to a US official.
  • At least one person was killed and seven others wounded in Ukraine’s Donetsk region as a result of Russian shelling, a local official said.
50 Posts

Russia said to be ramping up presence in the Black Sea. Here's the latest news from Ukraine

Russia is ramping up its presence in the Black Sea with what Ukraine’s military says is a “rather atypical number of ships.” The increased number of vessels could be intended as a “demonstration of dominance at sea” after Tuesday’s downing of a US drone by a Russian fighter jet, the military said.

If you’re just now catching up, here’s what else you should know:

Drone downing: The US is conducting an assessment of its drone operations in the Black Sea area, weighing the costs and benefits of the flights, several officials told CNN. The Pentagon plans to compare the potential intelligence value of a particular route versus the risk of escalation with Russia, they said. In the meantime, the US believes Russia has recovered some debris from the surveillance drone, an official familiar with the matter told CNN. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Thursday that it’s important to keep open the lines of communication between Washington and Moscow following the incident. In Washington, US Sen. Mark Warner said the Senate Intelligence Committee awaits more information on the drone downing, but that it was a clear sign Moscow was “on its back heels.”

Putin’s address: President Vladimir Putin accused the West of hitting Russia with a “sanctions war,” which he blamed for the country’s decline in GDP.  In an address to business executives, the president also said despite some “systemic issues with logistics, finances and technologies,” huge opportunities are opening up in the country for almost any area of business activity.

Poland’s fighter jets: Poland is set to provide Ukraine with four MiG-29 fighter jets in the coming days, Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Thursday, becoming the first NATO country to do so. According to the White House, the decision won’t spur President Joe Biden to send US F-16 aircraft. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the decisions countries make to provide Ukraine with military aid are “sovereign decisions.”

Other news:

  • Ukrainian officials held discussions Thursday with leaders of the United Kingdom, China, the United States, Latvia and Estonia.
  • At least one person was killed and seven others wounded in Ukraine’s Donetsk region as a result of Russian shelling, a local official said.

US says there's been a "significant spike" in aggressive Russian military flights in Syria

The US has seen a “significant spike” in aggressive Russian military flights in Syria this month, the commander of US Central Command said Thursday, two days after Russian jets collided with a US drone over the Black Sea. 

Gen. Erik Kurilla told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that Russian ground attack aircraft fly over US bases loaded with weapons “in an attempt to try and be provocative.” He described the Russian flights as “not what we expect of a professional air force.” 

Asked if the aggressive flights were new, Kurilla responded, “It’s not new, but we have seen a significant spike since about 1 March in Syria.”

“What we are seeing though is an increase recently in the unprofessional and unsafe behavior of the Russian air force in the region,” he said.

The US has approximately 900 troops in Syria at two different bases as part of the ongoing campaign to defeat ISIS. The US and Russia have a deconfliction line between the two militaries to ensure operations do not result in a miscalculation or an unintentional escalation.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a press conference that the US has observed a “pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.”

He added that the aggressive operations are not just pointed at the US, but at the UK and other countries as well.

Officials: US is now weighing the benefits of drone intel against the risks of escalation with Russia

The US is conducting an assessment of its drone operations in the Black Sea area, weighing the costs and benefits of the flights after Russia forced down one of the aircraft earlier this week, several officials told CNN.

The US has not stopped the flights entirely while it completes the analysis — the military sent the same model of drone, an MQ-9 Reaper, on a mission in approximately the same area over the Black Sea shortly after the collision occurred, US officials said. That aircraft was meant to survey the crash site and monitor Russians looking for the debris.

But the US military is “taking a close look” at the drones’ routes and assessing how to better reduce the risk of conflict with Russia’s military, which regularly flies fighter jets in and out of Crimea, the officials said.

The Pentagon plans to analyze the overall costs and benefits of flying these missions, comparing the potential intelligence value of a particular route versus the risk of escalation with Russia.  

There is concern among some in the US military that limiting drone routes will impact intelligence gathering related to the Ukraine war, the senior military official said. But the US has potential alternatives for gathering the intel, such as spy satellites. 

The US is considering another drone flight over the Black Sea in the coming days, the officials said, which would be consistent with its typical operating schedule.

More background: The collision between the Russian Su-27 fighter jets and the US drone happened around 40-50 nautical miles southwest of Crimea, over the Black Sea in international airspace, the US Air Force said Thursday. 

Russia accused the US of violating airspace they claim to have created for their “special military operation” in Ukraine—a designation the US does not accept. The officials also said Russia has not communicated any such airspace restriction. 

New footage released by the Pentagon on Thursday shows the Russian fighter jets rapidly approaching the drone, pouring fuel on it, and appearing to damage the drone’s propellor. The US was forced to take the drone down over the Black Sea after the impact made it effectively inoperable, officials said.

1 killed and 7 wounded in Russian shelling in Donetsk region, Ukrainian officials say

At least one person was killed and seven others wounded in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on Thursday as a result of Russian shelling, the Donetsk Regional Prosecutor’s Office said in a Telegram post.

Russian forces fired on the city of Kostiantynivka and several villages with artillery and Uragan multiple rocket launchers, the prosecutor’s office said, adding that the shelling hit “the railway station, market and private houses.”

The woman who died was 50 years old and living in Pivdenne, where one other person was hurt, according to the prosecutor’s office. The six other people who were injured were in Kostiantynivka, including one Polish citizen, it added.

Shell fragments damaged more than 30 residential buildings, the prosecutor’s office said. 

Ukrainian officials hold spate of talks with counterparts from China, US, UK and others

Ukrainian officials have held a number of discussions with leaders of other countries today. Here’s what they spoke about:

Separately, UK Foreign Minister James Cleverly made an official state visit to Moldova, where he said he believes that the best way to protect the country from a Russian attack is not by sending it military support, but by protecting Ukraine.

Zelensky discusses military aid and Ukraine's EU bid in meeting with Latvian prime minister

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Latvia's Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins on Thursday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins in Kyiv Thursday, Zelensky’s office said in a statement. 

Zelensky thanked Latvia for the “powerful political, defense, financial and humanitarian support since the first days of the full-scale Russian invasion,” his office said.

“Even from the first days of 2014, when this war actually began, (you) have shown that you are with us, you support our sovereignty, our people, our society, territorial integrity,” Zelensky is quoted as saying.

The Ukrainian president noted the Latvian government’s recent approval of a new military assistance package. The defense support provided by Latvia to Ukraine has already reached 1% of the small European country’s GDP, according to Zelensky’s office. 

The two leaders also discussed the situation on the front line, and Zelensky emphasized the importance of coordinating efforts between Ukraine’s allies to make sure Kyiv’s military is supplied with the weaponry it needs in the fight.

The parties also discussed the negotiations for Ukraine’s accession to the European Union and preparations for the NATO Summit in Vilnius, according to the statement. 

Zelensky praised Latvia’s advocacy for using international legal mechanisms to punish Russia for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, and for finding means to compensate the country “for the damage caused by Russia,” the president’s office said.

Earlier Thursday, Karins met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal

Negotiations on possible Zelensky-Xi conversation are ongoing, Ukrainian presidential adviser says

Negotiations about a possible conversation between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are ongoing, but it is too early to say whether a conversation will actually take place, according to a Ukrainian presidential adviser. 

“We can’t say for sure, because negotiations are ongoing,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said on national television Thursday.

The Ukrainian president is open to conversations with other leaders as well, not just Xi, “in order to explain the nature of the war and to say why, without taking into account Ukraine’s position, this war cannot be ended,” Podolyak said. 

“Why supporting for instance only the Russian side firstly will not lead to the finalization of the war, and secondly, it will not add points to China as a global player that understands the nature of war and understands how to end it,” he added. 

Earlier on Thursday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he had a telephone conversation with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. The two discussed Ukraine’s peace plan and “the significance of the principle of territorial integrity,” Kuleba said in a post on his official Twitter account.

Blinken says Poland made a sovereign decision to send fighter jets to Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a press conference during his visit to Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa, on March 15.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the decisions countries make to provide Ukraine with military aid are “sovereign decisions.”  

His comments come after Poland announced Thursday that the country would be sending four of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in the coming days.

“With regard to the decision by Poland to provide jets to Ukraine, look, these are sovereign decisions for countries to make what they will provide to Ukraine to help defend itself against the Russian aggression,” Blinken said at a press conference in Niger. “We of course, are working closely with dozens of countries on these questions, but different countries are doing different things in response to what they have and what the perceived needs are.”

Blinken gave no indication that Poland’s decision would change the Biden administration’s position against sending fighter jets to Ukraine right now.

“Our focus has been on doing everything we can to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, what it can use, and what it particularly needs in this moment, dealing both with the offensive that we’re seeing from Russia, across the eastern front, but also in preparation for its own actions in the weeks and months to come as it seeks to take back more of the territory that Russia has seized from it,” Blinken said. 

Blinken said it is a mistake to focus on any one weapons system at any one time. He spoke to the vast nature of military resources that Ukraine needs including air defenses, artillery, ammunition and armored vehicles.

“Secretary Austin has, you know, led a very, very successful process of bringing together dozens of countries to help find and coordinate that assistance,” he added.

UN reiterates Black Sea grain deal states 120-day extension, while Russia says it only agreed to 60 days

Ahead of the Black Sea grain agreement expiring this weekend, the United Nations emphasized that the deal states it would be extended for 120 days — even though Russia said it agreed to a 60-day extension of the deal after negotiations in Geneva on Monday.  

The Black Sea Grain Initiative is an agreement between Ukraine and Russia, brokered by the UN and Turkey, that was established in July 2022 to guarantee safe passage for ships carrying grain and oilseeds — some of Ukraine’s most important exports.   

Russian state-run news agency RIA, citing Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, reported on Monday that Russia and the UN had agreed to a 60-day extension of the grain deal after the negotiations in Geneva.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that the addition of 60 days was a “goodwill gesture” on Russia’s part when asked by reporters why the deal had not been extended by 120 days.  

When asked Thursday about the difference in the duration of the extension between Russian and the UN versions, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that it may be a display of “UN’s incompetence.”  

Dujarric responded to Zakharova’s remark, saying, “I was just stating and reading a line from the agreement, which talks about the fact that the agreement foresees a renewal for 120 days.”  

The spokesperson stressed that the UN doesn’t direct the talks or terms to the deal. The Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey are the parties involved in the agreement, with the UN as a witness, Dujarric said.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters on Wednesday that Ankara hopes to resolve the issue in a positive way “as soon as possible,” according to Turkish state media Anadolu. 

“We started negotiations with the idea of extending the grain corridor for another 120 days in line with the initial version of the agreement. Our friends with the Russian and Ukrainian sides held talks at the technical level. We also continue our talks at the ministerial level,” he said.  

US believes Russia has recovered some small pieces of debris from downed drone, US official says

The US believes Russia has recovered some debris in the Black Sea from the downed US surveillance drone, a US official familiar with the matter told CNN. The official described the recovered wreckage as pieces of fiberglass or small bits of the MQ-9 Reaper drone. 

CNN reported on Wednesday that Russia had reached the location where the US surveillance drone went down in the Black Sea, approximately 70-80 miles southwest of Crimea.

But the Biden administration downplayed the significance of the drone wreckage or the potential to glean any sensitive intelligence from the remains of the aircraft. 

“We made it impossible for them to be able to glean anything of intelligence value off the remnants of that drone, whatever remnants there might be on the surface of the water,” John Kirby, the National Security Council strategic communications coordinator, told CNN on Wednesday. 

After the collision between the US drone and the Russian fighter jets early Tuesday morning, the drone operators took steps to erase the sensitive software of the drone before it fell into the Black Sea, according to US officials.

“Whatever’s left … that’s floating will probably be flight control surfaces, that kind of thing. Probably nothing of real intrinsic value to them in terms of terms of reengineering or anything like that,” Kirby said.

The drone landed in water that may be nearly a mile deep, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley said at a press conference on Wednesday. 

“That’s US property and, and we’ll, we’ll leave it that at this point, but it probably broke up. There’s probably not a lot to recover, frankly,” he said.

Zelensky and UK's Sunak discuss situation at the front lines, Ukrainian president says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday about the latest at the front lines around the eastern city of Bakhmut, Zelensky said in a post on his official Twitter account.

“As always, we have concrete results in increasing defense and economic support for Ukraine. Appreciate UK’s unwavering position,” he added. 

Analysis: Drone video highlights risks of a direct US-Russia confrontation

The stunning aerial video of a Russian jet buzzing and then apparently hitting a US drone over the Black Sea vividly shows how the war in Ukraine could spin out of control.

Clearly, the showdown, which has resulted in angry rhetoric between Washington and Moscow but nothing more, would have been far worse if the US Reaper drone had been a manned aircraft.

The fact a drone was involved has allowed both sides to calibrate their language to avoid an escalation, but the reverberations of the incident are still likely to have prolonged consequences.

The US and its allies are pumping billions of dollars of ammunition and sophisticated arms into Ukraine to be used against Russian forces, prompting worries that a miscalculation or incident could cause direct clashes between Russian and NATO assets.

And one of the most alarming aspects of the drone downing is that it took place in international airspace – not over Russian territory or the battlefield – and thus underscores how US and Russian forces could come into contact even outside the war zone.

Senior Russian defense officials approved the harassment of the drone, CNN’s Natasha Bertrand and Kylie Atwood reported Wednesday, citing two US officials familiar with intelligence on the incident.

So it’s plausible this escalation was a deliberate decision to send some kind of message to the US, or to try to deter US intelligence gathering near Ukraine.

Russia has complained that the US drone infringed its self-declared air rules over the Black Sea. But this is a risible position, given its own huge violation of international law with an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state.

Regardless, the footage of the high-speed airborne clash shows that as long as the Ukraine war goes on — and the West is involved, even indirectly — the possibility for escalation that expands the conflict disastrously will constantly exist.

It will take careful management in both Washington and Moscow to lower the risk.

Read more here.

Open lines of communication between US and Russia critical after drone incident, Russian official says

It’s important to keep the lines of communication between Washington and Moscow open following Tuesday’s drone incident, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a news conference Thursday, according to state news agency TASS. 

Zakharova reiterated that Russia is not seeking a confrontation and stands for pragmatic cooperation in the interests of the people of both countries.

“That said, we are capable of protecting these interests,” Zakharova added. 

Some background: Moscow and Washington have been in contact through military and diplomatic channels following the incident.

US officials and their Russian counterparts have been in an open dispute over what led to the downing of a US drone over the Black Sea. The US has maintained that Russian fighter jets dumped fuel on the drone before clipping its propeller and forcing it to be flown down; Russians have denied that there was physical contact between a Russian jet and US drone.  

US may never know intent of Russian pilot who struck drone, official says

In this screengrab from video, a Russian Su-27 approaches to the rear of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9.

Regardless of the intent of the Russian fighter jet that forced the downing of a US drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, it was “intentional harassment,” according to John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council.

“We can’t get between the ears of the Russian pilot and know what the intent was there in terms of striking the drone. It’s just – I don’t know that we’ll ever know. What we do know, and what is clearly evident, is this was intentional harassment. It was intentional dumping of fuel to try to disrupt the flight profile … and it was intentionally aggressive,” Kirby said.

Kirby added that the pilot shouldn’t have been in the same airspace as the drone in the first place.

“The drone was acting in accordance with international law doing absolutely nothing wrong,” he said.  

Pressed on whether the US will actively investigate the intent of the pilot, Kirby simply said that “we’re not going on a fact-finding mission.” 

Kirby said there were no conversations that he was aware of between US officials and Russian counterparts since the video was released Thursday morning.

“We’re not tracking any outreach either way since the release of the video and frankly … I wouldn’t be surprised if there was none. The video is pretty darn conclusive about what happened and it absolutely just decimates the Russian lie,” he added.

Ukrainian and Latvian prime ministers meet in Kyiv 

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal met with his Latvian counterpart Krisjanis Karins in Kyiv on Thursday, Shmyhal said in a post on his official Twitter account. 

“Ukraine and Latvia will develop new logistics routes. We discussed strengthening trade and economic ties and the restoration of Ukraine,” Shmyhal said

“Appreciate Latvia’s support on the road to EU membership and NATO,” he added. 

A delegation from Estonia is also in Kyiv on Thursday, according to a statement released by the Ukrainian presidency. 

Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Ihor Zhovkva met with Estonia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kyllike Sillaste-Elling, according to the statement. Some of the topics they discussed included military aid, reconstruction efforts and a Ukraine peace formula, according to the statement.

Poland's decision to send jets to Ukraine won't prompt Biden to send F-16s, White House says

Poland’s decision to send Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine is a “sovereign decision” that won’t spur President Joe Biden to send US F-16 aircraft, according to the White House.

Biden has said shipments of US fighter jets aren’t in the cards at the moment, though he hasn’t ruled it out entirely.

The pledge from Poland to send four jets, which is a step beyond other allies’ commitments, doesn’t alter that decision-making, said John Kirby, a top official at the US National Security Council.

“It doesn’t change our calculus with respect to F-16s,” he said.

“These are sovereign decisions for any country to make and we respect those sovereign decisions,” he said, adding later, “They get to determine not only what they’re going to give but how they’re going to characterize it.”

Kirby declined to endorse the decision, saying he didn’t think it was the US’ place “to characterize Poland’s decision one way or another.”

Russia has stepped up its presence of ships in the Black Sea, Ukrainian military says

Russia is increasing its presence in the Black Sea with a “rather atypical number of ships,” Ukraine’s military said Thursday.

The increased number of vessels, made up of 21 units, may be intended as “a demonstration of dominance at sea” after Tuesday’s downing of a US drone by a Russian fighter jet, said a Facebook post from Ukraine’s Operational Command South, a formation of the country’s army.

The US has said it will take measures to ensure the drone won’t fall into the wrong hands.

“It is also possible that the Russians themselves will conduct a search operation,” the statement added. 

Threat to Ukraine: The military’s post said Russia’s increased presence in the Black Sea also means a greater threat of missile strikes on Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military said the presence of five missile carriers in the Black Sea, including two underwater, “increases the missile threat enormously.”

The vessels could be carrying as many as 32 Kalibr-type cruise missiles, the statement said.

“Do not ignore air raid alarms,” the Operational Command South warned.

The formation also warned of Russia’s growing Black Sea missile carrier presence in an earlier update, which was published Monday.

Drone video "clearly demonstrated" US account of mid-air incident, US official says

Video of a mid-air incident between a US drone and a Russian fighter jet clearly demonstrates that Russia has been “just flat out lying” about what happened over the Black Sea, said John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council.

“It clearly demonstrated our narrative of what happened, and I think if any of you have seen that video you can see clearly that it does,” he said Thursday, adding that the decision to release the footage was in part to “lay bare and to make clear to the rest of the world the manner in which the Russians have been just flat out lying” about the episode.

US officials and their Russian counterparts have been in an open dispute over what transpired that led to the downing of a US drone over the Black Sea. The US has maintained that Russian fighter jets dumped fuel on the drone before clipping its propeller and forcing it to be flown down; Russians have denied that there was physical contact between a Russian jet and US drone.  

The video doesn’t show the actual moment of collision, but it does show a damaged propeller blade after the pass by the Russian jet. Kirby said the video provided “clear and convincing evidence of the account that we laid out.” 

Still, Kirby said the video could not provide evidence of the Russian pilot’s intentions. “At best, it’s reckless flying. At worst, it’s reckless and incompetent. We don’t know whether it is also intentional, the video doesn’t just show us that,” he added.

Kremlin critic, who is a former Russian city mayor, sentenced to 14 days in prison, state media says

A court in Yekaterinburg, Russia, has sentenced Kremlin critic and former mayor of the city Yevgeny Roizman to 14 days in prison on charges of displaying extremist symbols for reposting a video, titled “Why is Putin imprisoning Navalny” on social media, according to Russian state news agency TASS. 

The video was reposted on the VKontakte social network in a social media group of Roizman supporters, but it is not his personal page, as he says in a video published by TASS that he does not have a VK account. 

A separate criminal case was opened against Roizman in August for discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation. He was also banned from going online. 

Roizman, a close ally of Alexey Navalny, has also been declared a “foreign agent” in Russia. 

Poland detains 9 people suspected of spying for Russia, interior minister says  

Nine people belonging to an alleged espionage ring suspected of “collaborating” with the Russian secret service agency FSB have been detained in recent days, Poland’s Interior Minister, Mariusz Kamiński, announced Thursday. 

Those detained are “foreigners from across the eastern border,” he said. “The suspects conducted intelligence activities against Poland and prepared acts of sabotage at the request of Russian intelligence.” 

Kamiński said the prosecutor’s office charged six people with espionage and participation in an organized criminal group. 

The court decided on pre-trial detention of