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Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

U.S. warns Russia to be more careful, downed drone not recovered, White House says

U.S. officials told Russia’s ambassador to the United States that Moscow has to be more careful when flying in international airspace, White House spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday, following the crash of a U.S. military drone into the Black Sea after being intercepted by Russian fighter jets.

The State Department on Tuesday summoned Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, to express U.S. concerns over the incident, the first since the war in Ukraine began more than a year ago.

An MQ-9 Reaper drone similar to the one that was involved in an encounter with Russian fighter jets over the Black Sea.

John Moore | Getty Images

“The message that we delivered to the Russian ambassador is that they need to be more careful in flying in international airspace near U.S. assets that are, again, flying in completely legal ways, conducting missions in support of our national security interests,” Kirby said in an interview with CNN.

“They’re the ones that need to be more careful.”

Kirby also said the MQ-9 surveillance drone has not been recovered and may never be recovered, given the depth of the Black Sea where it went down.

“It has not been recovered,” Kirby said. “And I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to recover it. Where it fell into the Black Sea – very, very deep water. So we’re still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort. There may not be.”

The Pentagon said one of the Russian Su-27 jets struck the propeller of the drone on Tuesday, making it inoperable, while Russia’s defense ministry blamed “sharp maneuvering” of the unmanned drone for the crash and said that its jets did not make contact.

Antonov, the Russian ambassador, said the drone “deliberately and provocatively was moving towards Russian territory with transponders turned off.”

— Reuters

Missile attack on Kharkiv city damages school, officials say

A woman walks past a damages vehicle after a Russian missile strike in the city of Kharkiv on March 15, 2023.

Sergey Bobok | Afp | Getty Images

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. CNBC wasn’t able to verify the details in the posts.

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.

— Holly Ellyatt

Kremlin: relations with U.S. in dire state amid drone incident

The St. Basil Cathedral and a Kremlin tower are visible on the Red Square in Moscow.

Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

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.

The U.S. military said on Tuesday that a Russian fighter plane had clipped the propeller of one of its spy drones as it flew over the Black Sea in international air space, causing it to fall into the water.

Russia denied this, suggesting it had crashed due to “sharp manoeuvring”.

— Reuters

Some Ukrainian units trying to withdraw from Bakhmut, Russian official claims

Ukrainian servicemen from 24th brigade along the front line south of Bakhmut near New York, Ukraine, on March 10, 2023.

Wolfgang Schwan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A Russian official in Donetsk has reportedly claimed “scattered” Ukrainian units are trying to retreat from Bakhmut, a beseiged city in eastern Ukraine that Russia calls “Artemovsk.”

“Periodically, some scattered units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine try to retreat from Artemovsk . Due to the fact that the roads are controlled, they try to retreat along country roads or fields, through forest plantations,” Jan Gagin, an advisor to the acting head of the pro-Russian, separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” told the Rossiya 24 TV channel, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Gagin said muddy conditions mean the Ukrainian military has to retreat on foot. He claimed they were suffering “serious losses in manpower and equipment.”

CNBC was unable to verify the comments and it’s not the first time Russian officials have claimed Ukrainian units are retreating from Bakhmut.

On Monday, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces Colonel-General Syrskyi said the situation on the front line around Bakhmut “remains difficult” but Ukraine has vowed to fight on, sending reinforcements into the city.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have been fighting to defend and control Bakhmut for seven months. Russian units are now said to practically surround the city to the north, east and south.

Russia views Bakhmut as a strategic goal from which it could launch further assaults to capture other cities in Donetsk. One of its key goals in Ukraine is to capture and control the entire Donbas region.

Ukraine’s military said in an update Wednesday that its forces had repelled over 90 attacks by Russian forces around Bakhmut and surrounding settlements.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian public officials could face more travel restrictions, U.K. says

Russian President Vladimir Putin, flanked by military officials, marks the Defender of the Fatherland Day in 2015 in central Moscow.

Sasha Mordovets | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian public officials and workers could face more travel restrictions as the war with Ukraine continues, Britain’s Ministry of Defense noted Wednesday.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials have been subject to increasingly severe foreign travel restrictions, the ministry noted in an intelligence update on Twitter, with some likely to have been forced to forfeit their passports to Russia’s Federal Security Service.

“Employees closer to the centre of power face more severe restrictions,” the ministry said, with Kremlin officials banned from all international leisure travel. These kinds of measures had their origin in the Soviet era but travel restrictions were tightened most recently after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“The measures are likely designed to prevent the flight or defection of increasingly disaffected officials,” the U.K. said.

“There is a realistic possibility that as the securitisation of the Russian state continues, travel restrictions will be tightened for an increasing number of public sector employees,” it added.

— Holly Ellyatt

British and German fighter jets intercept Russian aircraft in ‘routine’ mission

An RAF Typhoon jet.

Phil Noble | AFP | Getty Images

British and German fighter jets were scrambled Tuesday to intercept a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace.

Marking the first joint NATO interception of its kind, the British and German air forces deployed Typhoon jets to intercept a Russian IL-78 Midas air-to-air refueling aircraft after it failed to communicate with Estonian air traffic control. 

Following a successful escort, the British Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the pair of Typhoons were then redirected to intercept a Russian AN-148 airliner, also passing Estonian airspace.

The British Ministry of Defense noted that the mission by the NATO allies was standard procedure, stating that “the interception is however a routine NATO mission for the Typhoons which provides reassurance that the U.K. and Germany together with other NATO allies stand with their Estonian ally at this time of tension.”

The U.K. is preparing take over from Germany to lead the NATO mission in Estonia and this latest incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between the Western military alliance and Russia. On Tuesday, a U.S. drone was downed over the Black Sea after an encounter with two Russian fighter jets.

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. to blame for drone incident, Russian ambassador suggests

Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov appeared to blame the U.S. for the downing of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday that the U.S. military blamed on the “reckless” and “unsafe” behavior of Russian fighter jets.

Mark Wilson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov appeared to blame the U.S. for the downing of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday that the U.S. military blamed on the “reckless” and “unsafe” behavior of Russian fighter jets.

Antonov said in comments posted on the Russian embassy’s Telegram account that he had told U.S. officials that Russia’s position on the incident was that the U.S. drone had been “moving deliberately and provocatively towards the Russian territory with its transponders turned off” and it had then, he claimed, “violated the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation,” which is how Russia describes its invasion of Ukraine.

Antonov, who was summoned by the U.S. State Department on Tuesday to explain the incident, insisted that the Russian fighter jets did not come into contact with the drone and said “the unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders are cause for concern.”

“We are well aware of the missions such reconnaissance and strike drones are used for,” he said, claiming that they are used to “gather intelligence which is later used by the Kiev regime to attack our armed forces and territory.”

The ambassador called for the U.S. to “stop making sorties near the Russian borders” and said Moscow perceives “any actions involving the use of American weapons and military equipment as openly hostile” but then added that Russia “does not seek confrontation” with the U.S.

The U.S. military said Tuesday that two Russian fighter jets had intercepted the drone while it was in international airspace, harassing it in a possible bid to damage the drone before one of the jets clipped the unmanned aerial vehicle, causing it to crash.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War say the incident is unlikely to cause an escalation between the countries, however, noting Tuesday that “Russian forces have used coercive signaling against US and allied flights and naval vessels for decades in multiple theaters without triggering conflict.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin rejects theory about Ukrainian role in pipeline blasts

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia, March 3, 2023. 

Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday dismissed as “sheer nonsense” allegations that Ukrainians could be behind the blasts that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea last year, and again pointed the finger at the U.S.

Putin spoke after The New York Times, The Washington Post and German media published stories last week citing unidentified U.S. and other officials as saying there was evidence Ukraine, or at least Ukrainians, may have been responsible. The Ukrainian government has denied involvement.

Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper and German public broadcasters ARD and SWR reported that investigators believed five men and a woman used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland to carry out the attack. German federal prosecutors confirmed that a boat was searched in January but have not confirmed the reported findings.

Putin rejected the notion as “sheer nonsense.”

“Such an explosion, so powerful and at such depth, could only be conducted by experts backed by the entire potential of a state that has relevant technologies,” he said in televised remarks.

— Associated Press

Russia denies that its aircraft came into contact with the U.S. drone

An Mq-9 Reaper type drone at the Naval Air Station at Sigonella, Sicily, the best equipped American intervention base in the Mediterranean on April 29, 2022 in Catania, Italy.

Fabrizio Villa | Getty Images

Russia’s Ministry of Defense said its two fighter aircraft did not come in contact with a U.S. drone operating over the Black Sea.

Russia said in a statement posted on its official Telegram channel that the drone was flying with its transponders off near the Crimean Peninsula when it went into “unguided flight” and then fell into the water.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was in the process of summoning Russia’s Ambassador Anatoly Antonov to discuss the “brazen violation of international law.”

“We have engaged at high levels with our allies and partners in the first instance, to brief them on this incident and to let them know what we know,” Price said on a conference call with reporters.

“We are engaging directly with the Russians again at senior levels to convey our strong objections to this unsafe unprofessional intercept, which caused the downing of the unmanned U.S. aircraft,” he added.

— Amanda Macias

Russian jet downs U.S. Reaper drone over Black Sea

General Atomics’ Guardian drone, which is the maritime version of the company’s Predator B or MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle.

General Atomics

A Russian fighter jet downed a U.S. drone operating over the Black Sea on Tuesday, U.S. European Command said in a statement.

“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa.

Prior to the collision, two Russian aircraft harassed the drone, he said.

“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” the statement added.

Two Sukhoi Su-27 fighters perform during celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Russian air force base of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Kant, about 20 km outside Bishkek on October 27, 2013. AFP PHOTO / VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO (Photo credit should read VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP via Getty Images)

Vyacheslav Oseledko | Afp | Getty Images

The MQ-9 Reaper system is designed to collect intelligence and carry out reconnaissance missions and is manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

The remotely piloted system can carry a combination of Hellfire missiles, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

— Amanda Macias

Warsaw may give Ukraine MiG-29 jets in next 4 to 6 weeks, Polish prime minister says

Two Polish MiG-29s sit at an airbase in Malbork, Poland, in this file photo from August 2021.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Poland could give Ukraine MiG-29 fighter jets in the coming four to six weeks, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, suggesting that Kyiv’s allies were moving closer to an agreement on the next step in their military support for the country.

Poland has said it would be prepared to send Soviet-designed MiG-29 jets to Ukraine as part of a coalition of countries. However, with Kyiv’s allies taking a cautious approach to the transfer of fighter jets it has been unclear how long such a process might take.

“That could happen in the coming 4-6 weeks,” Morawiecki told a news conference when asked how long it could be before Warsaw supplies the aircraft.

Last Thursday Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said his Polish counterpart had told him at a European Union meeting on the previous day that Warsaw would agree to a joint process to hand over MiG-29 jets to Ukraine.

Nad said the time had come also for Slovakia to make a decision on whether or not to send jets to Ukraine.

— Reuters

Russia is fighting for the existence of its state, Putin says

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin addresses secretaries of security councils and national security advisers during a meeting to discuss Afghan issues at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 8, 2023.

Grigory Sysoev | Sputnik | via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated claims that Russia is involved in a battle for the existence of its own state.

“So for us this is not a geopolitical task, but a task of the survival of Russian statehood, creating conditions for the future development of the country and our children,” Putin said, adding that Russia was also fighting in Ukraine for pro-Russian communities in eastern Ukraine, according to comments reported by Reuters.

Speaking during a visit to an aviation factory in the far eastern region of Buryatia, Putin said Russia had tried to mend relations with Ukraine for decades but that “the situation changed” after a pro-Western Ukrainian uprising in 2014, which saw a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president ousted in an event Russia describes as a “coup d’état.”

Putin has frequently claimed that the war in Ukraine was caused by the West trying to meddle in Ukraine and damage Russia. Ukraine and its allies say Russia wants to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence and to install a pro-Moscow regime in Kyiv.

Asked whether he was concerned last year that the Russian economy could collapse under international sanctions, Putin said he had worried, but he added that Russia’s “economic sovereignty” now was a major result of last year. The foundations of Russia’s economic stability were “stronger than anyone thought,” he added.

Putin said Russia’s financial system had got stronger and that Western companies that left Russia last year thought the economy would collapse “but it didn’t.”

Holly Ellyatt

Fighting is tough and ‘very painful’ in the east, Zelenskyy says

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy insisted his forces could win the battle for Bakhmut in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, as doubts continue over whether Ukraine should spend more manpower and resources on defending the besieged city.

“As always, today I was in touch with our commanders, with intelligence [officers]. It is very hard in the east – very painful,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.

“We must destroy the enemy’s military power – and we will destroy it,” he said, adding that the defense of settlements big and small, such as Bilohorivka and Avdiivka or Bakhmut and Vuhledar, could determine what Ukraine’s future looks like.

Ukrainian servicemen from 24th brigade along the front line south of Bakhmut near New York, Ukraine, on March 10, 2023.

Wolfgang Schwan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

On Tuesday morning, Ukraine’s military said in a Facebook post that Russian offensives continued around Bakhmut and surrounding towns “despite significant losses.” It added that its forces had repelled more than 100 attacks in the Donetsk region but noted that Russian forces were relentless in their pursuit to capture Bakhmut.

There are doubts over the merits of defending Bakhmut, a city said to be almost completely surrounded by Russian forces and mercenary units.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Ukraine was suffering losses among reserves it intended to use in planned counteroffensives against Russian forces, expected in late spring, and noted in an interview reported by Reuters that, “we could lose here everything we wanted to use for those counter-offensives.”

— Holly Ellyatt

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