The US military said a Russian fighter plane clipped the propeller of one of its spy drones and made it crash into the Black Sea on Tuesday in the first such direct encounter between the two powers since Russia invaded Ukraine over a year ago.
The Russian defence ministry offered a different account and Moscow’s ambassador to Washington said his country viewed the incident involving a US MQ-9 drone and Russian Su-27 fighter jet as a provocation. T
he United States conducts regular surveillance flights in the region and has supported Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in military aid, although it has not become directly engaged in the war.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Voldoymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday night that military commanders were unanimously in favour of defending the eastern frontline, including the ruined city of Bakhmut, which has been under siege by Russia for months.
The main focus was on … Bakhmut,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. “There was a clear position of the entire command: Strengthen this sector and destroy the occupiers to the maximum.”
Zelenskiy dismissed three regional governors, including Luhansk in the east, Odesa on the Black Sea in the south and Khnelnitskiy region in the west, but no reason was given in the announcement by the government’s parliamentary representative.
Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said Russia was “on the offensive” across the entire frontline in the eastern Donetsk region, with battles also raging around Kreminna, Bilohorivka and Sprine north of Bakhmut.
The defence of Bakhmut was important because a “large amount of enemy material is being destroyed … A huge number of troops are being killed and as of today, the enemy’s capacity to advance is being reduced”, she told Ukrainian television.
On the diplomatic and economic fronts, talks continued to extend a deal to allow grain shipments from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports that is due to expire this week, the United Nations and Turkey said. The Kyiv government rejected a Russian push for a 60-day renewal, half the term of the previous renewal.
Two Russian Su-27 jets carried out what the US military described as a reckless intercept of the American spy drone while flying in international air space. It said the Russian fighter jets dumped fuel on the MQ-9 – possibly trying to blind or damage it – and flew in front of it in unsafe manoeuvres.