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Ukraine updates: US summons Russian ambassador over drone

March 14, 2023

The US summoned the Russian ambassador after an American drone was forced down by a Russian jet in the Black Sea. Plus, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy said the future of the conflict depends on the Bakhmut battle.

A US Air Force extended range MQ-9 Reaper drone
A US Air Force extended range MQ-9 Reaper drone like the one involved in the incident over the Black SeaImage: Unbekannt/Zuma Wire/imago images

The US said it summoned the Russian ambassador on Tuesday, after a Russian fighter jet forced down a US military "Reaper" surveillance drone over the Black Sea.

Ned Price, the spokesman for the State Department, said, "We are summoning the Russian ambassador to the State Department."

Black Sea drone incident: Defense analyst speaks to DW

Moscow said the American drone sharply maneuvered and crashed after an encounter with Russian jets near Crimea, but insisted that Russian fighter jets didn't fire weapons or hit the drone.

The Russian Defense Ministry said their fighters from air defense forces on duty were in the air to identify the "intruder" over the Black Sea.

The US said that a Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of the surveillance drone in "brazen violation of international law."

The Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, described the US drone flight as a "provocation," saying there was no reason for US military aircraft and warships to be near Russia's borders.

Speaking after meeting US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Karen Donfried, Antonov added that Moscow wants "pragmatic" ties with Washington and "don't want any confrontation between the US and Russia."

US Air Force General James Hecker, who oversees the US Air Force in the region, 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." 

The US military added the incident followed a pattern of dangerous behavior by Russian pilots operating near aircraft flown by the US and its allies, including over the Black Sea.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters they don't "need to have some sort of check-in with the Russians before we fly in international airspace. There's no requirement to do that nor do we do it."

The Black Sea lies between Europe and Asia and is bordered by Russia and Ukraine, among other countries. 

Pentagon: Russian pilots' actions 'unsafe, unprofessional'

Kirby said the incident was "noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was, indeed reckless that it was."  

"The State Department will be speaking directly with their Russian counterparts, and expressing our concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional intercept," he added. 

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the matter as well. Tuesday's incident appeared to mark the first time since the height of the Cold War that a US aircraft was brought down after being hit by a Russian warplane.

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war on Tuesday, March 14:

Putin has successfully used war to 'consolidate power,' says Russia expert

Angela Stent, an expert on Russia and author of a prize-winning book on President Vladimir Putin, told DW that the Russian leader wants to show he is in control amid speculations about his health.

Putin's televised visit to a factory today was meant for just that, to show people "that he's in charge... he wants to give a more upbeat message to the population."

Stent say he's managed to use the war of aggression in Ukraine to his advantage, saying: "Putin has used this year of the war, paradoxically, to consolidate his power."

"So far, he's succeeded in convincing them... the West is trying to break up Russia and this is a fight for their existence," Stent says when asked whether people who've stayed back in  Russia have confidence in their leader.

Stent added that Putin was waiting to tire the West when it came to his master plan for launching the invasion, saying: "He's playing a long game."

Putin insists West is responsible for Ukraine war

'Total nonsense:' Putin on report about Ukrainian involvement in Nord Stream attack

Putin has rubbished Ukrainian involvement in the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines last year, saying that an action on that scale could be carried out "only by specialists."

Putin said in a televised interview that Ukrainian involvement was "total nonsense," adding that the explosions that rendered the gaslines inoperable last year "still requires the support of a state that has the appropriate technology."

"Who is interested? Theoretically, the US could have an interest in preventing Russian energy carriers from entering the European market," Putin said. He added he had no answers to the mystery behind the attack.

Putin's comments came after The New York Times published a report citing new intelligence that a "pro-Ukrainian group" may have been responsible for the blasts. Ukraine has denied any involvement in the attack.

Ukraine begins producing shells for Soviet-era tanks

Ukrainian state arms manufacturer Ukroboronprom said they have begun producing ammunition for Soviet-era tanks.

"The first batch of 125-mm projectiles for T-64, T-72 and T-80 tanks, which the Security and Defense Forces of Ukraine use to strike the invaders, has already been delivered," it said in a post on Telegram.

It said the shells had been made to fulfil an order from Ukraine's Defense Ministry. While main battle tanks pledged by allies are to enter service soon, the bulk of Ukraine's operational tank fleet remains Soviet-made in the short term.  

Zelenskyy says future depends on Bakhmut

Ukraine's future depends on a victory in Bakhmut and elsewhere along the front line, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening address on Monday.

Bakhmut has become the main focus of Russia's assault, where it has captured the eastern part of the city.

"It is very tough in the east — very painful. We have to destroy the enemy's military power. And we will destroy it," Zelenskyy said.

Russia says taking Bakhmut would allow it to capture the rest of the Donetsk region — a key war aim for the Kremlin.

But in recent weeks, trench warfare has claimed a huge toll for both sides in Bakhmut.

On Monday, Ukrainian soldiers said they were repelling intensified Russian attacks in the city.

Zelenskyy said the front-line towns are where "the kind of future we are to have is being decided, where the future of all Ukrainians is being fought for."

Defense analyst Marina Miron on Bakhmut battle

'Russian statehood' at threat in Ukraine, Putin says

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of using Ukraine as a tool to inflict a "strategic defeat" on Moscow.

He made the comments while speaking to workers at an aviation factory in Buryatia.

The head of state said that Moscow was defending Russia's continued existence as a statein its invasion of Ukraine.

"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," he said.

Putin also asserted that the Russian economy had withstood Western sanctions.

"We have increased our economic sovereignty many times over. After all, what did our enemy count on? That we would collapse in 2-3 weeks or in a month," he said.

"This did not happen," Putin said. "It turned out, for many of us, and even more so for Western countries, that the fundamental foundations of Russia's stability are much stronger than anyone thought."

Ukrainian, Russian losses mount in battle for Bakhmut

Ukraine grain deal talks ongoing after Russian proposal — UN

Consultations to prolong a vital Ukrainian grain exports deal are continuing, the UN said, after a Russian proposal for just a 60-day extension cast doubt over its fate.

"The United Nations will do everything possible to preserve the integrity of the agreement and ensure its continuity," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA, told reporters as he said consultations "with all parties and various levels continue."

The comments came after a one-day meeting in Geneva between top Russian and UN officials, which ended in Moscow announcing it would not oppose prolonging the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, as had been feared.

But it only agreed to extending the deal aimed at easing the global food crisis, which is due to expire on Saturday, for half of the 120-day period of the original accord.

Ukraine said that "contradicts" the original agreement but did not reject the proposal.

Russia's defense minister orders to double production of high-precision weapons

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered a top Russian arms manufacturer to double its production of high-precision rockets, the TASS news agency reported.

Last week, Russia unleashed a barrage of high-precision missiles and other attacks on Ukraine, triggering a spate of power outages, including at Europe's largest nuclear power plant.

Russian parliament votes to censor criticism of mercenary groups

Russia's lower house of parliament voted to approve an amendment that would punish those found guilty of discrediting "volunteer" groups fighting in Ukraine, extending a law that censors criticism of Russia's armed forces.

The amendment is seen as a move to "protect" fighters working for the private Wagner Group, a mercenary force, which is leading Russia's campaign for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has welcomed the proposals — an expansion of wartime censorship measures introduced after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Lithuania parliament designates Wagner "a terrorist organization"

Lithuania's parliament voted unanimously to designate Russia's Wagner mercenary force "a terrorist organization," accusing it of "systematic, serious crimes of aggression" in Ukraine.

According to Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT, the resolution states that Wagner members and mercenaries are a threat to the state and public security. The document also calls on other countries to follow Lithuania’s suit.

In January the United States formally designated Wagner as a transnational criminal organization, putting it in league with Italian mafia groups and Japanese and Russian organized crime.

Strike on residential buildings in Kramatorsk kills one

A Russian missile strike on several residential buildings in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk killed one and wounded three people, Ukraine's president said.

"A Russian missile hit the city center," President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a Facebook post, adding that six buildings were damaged. "At least three people were injured. One person died."

Images released by Zelenskyy showed police and rescuers working in front of a three-story partially-destroyed brick building with shattered windows.

In April 2022, a missile strike killed some 60 fleeing civilians at the Kramatorsk train station, in one of the deadliest attacks targeting civilians of the invasion.

Kremlin says Russia does not recognize ICC jurisdiction

The Kremlin said it does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the Russian TASS news agency reported, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov was asked about reports the International Criminal Court (ICC) was expected to seek its first arrest warrants against Russian individuals in relation to the conflict in Ukraine shortly.

The International Criminal Court will open two cases against Russian officials over the invasion of Ukraine, the New York Times reported on Monday.

Russian ammunition shortages worsen — UK 

In recent weeks, Russian artillery ammunition shortages have likely worsened to the extent that extremely punitive shell-rationing is in force on many parts of the front, UK Defense Ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

According to the update, it has almost certainly been a key reason why no Russian formation has recently been able to generate operationally significant offensive action.

"Russia has almost certainly already resorted to issuing old munitions stock which were previously categorized as unfit for use," the UK ministry said.

German jets deployed 27 times in response to Russian jets over Baltic

German fighter jets stationed on NATO's eastern flank have been deployed 27 times since last August after being alerted to unknown aircraft in the Baltic region, according to the German air force, or Luftwaffe.

During the deployments, the German forces identified Russian military aircraft above the Baltic Sea, a spokesperson told DPA in Berlin.

The German Luftwaffe's Eurofighter Typhoons are alerted when unknown aircraft approach the Baltic airspace without a transponder signal or radio contact.

The three Baltic republics and NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania lack their own air forces. NATO makes use of bases at Ämari and Siauliai in Lithuania to police the airspace over the Baltic region.

NATO allies station the planes along with support staff at the bases in rotation. Germany has participated in the mission since 2005.

How NATO polices the skies on Russia's border

Russia not informed on progress of Nord Stream blasts probe — diplomat

Moscow has not been informed about the progress of an investigation into last year's Nord Stream pipeline blasts and has handed in a report to prove this to the United Nations, a senior Russian diplomat said.

Russia has prepared an "official document" based on its correspondence with Denmark, Sweden and Germany and has given copies of it to the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, said Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia's deputy UN ambassador.

"The documents allow our colleagues at the UN to verify that the allegations that these countries have informed us of the progress of their investigations are not true," Polyanskiy said on the Telegram messaging platform.

The September 26 explosions on the pipelines connecting Russia and Germany occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark. Denmark, Germany and Sweden told the Security Council in a joint letter in February that the "Russian authorities have been informed regarding the ongoing investigations" by their national authorities.

Ukraine analysts question Bakhmut tactics

Some military analysts in Ukraine have questioned Zelenskyy's decision to continue defending Bakhmut, rather than withdraw from the front-line city.

"As of now we have information that Ukraine is sending reserves to Bakhmut that underwent training in Western countries. And we are suffering losses among reserves that we intended to use for counter-offensives," Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said in an interview with the Reuters news agency.

"We could lose here everything we wanted to use for those counter-offensives."

Ukrainian military historian Roman Ponomarenko was also concerned about the potential losses if Russia manages to encircle the city. 

"If we simply give up Bakhmut and withdraw our troops and equipment, nothing terrible can happen ... if they seal the ring, we will lose men and equipment," he told Ukrainian radio station NV.

Macron and Orban talk European unity

French President Emmanuel Macron had a working dinner with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban to discuss European unity on Monday night.

Unlike most European Union leaders, Orban has been openly critical of the bloc's stance towards the invasion of Ukraine, which he has previously called an "indirect war" against Russia. He has pledged to maintain relations with Russia but nevertheless sided with EU sanctions.

During the meeting, Macron "reaffirmed the need for the unity of European countries in their support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, particularly via the strict application of sanctions," his office said afterward.

The two leaders also touched on the proposed accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO. Hungary is the only NATO member other than Turkey that has not ratified both countries' bids.

More on the war in Ukraine

Ukraine's military says Russia is using hypersonic missiles in attacks across the country. DW looks at what makes these missiles different to conventional missiles, and how they're able to evade interception for longer.

Russian lawmakers want to crack down harder on individuals who criticize the troops fighting against Ukraine. DW investigates how these legal changes will impact Russian society.

rm, dh,zc/rc,rt, ar (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)