Despite Russia’s denial, the Pentagon released a video on Thursday claiming that a Russian fighter jet clipped the propeller of a US spy drone, causing it to crash into the Black Sea this week.
The 40-second video was captured by the MQ-9 Reaper drone two days ago while it was conducting regular reconnaissance in international airspace near Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula Moscow forcibly annexed in 2014.
The video showed what the Pentagon said were two Russian Su-27 fighter jets swooping toward the drone and releasing jet fuel on it in harassing behaviour. After a second pass by the jets, the video cuts out then resumes with images of the drone’s damaged propeller.
U.S. officials have accused the Russian jets of acting in an unsafe manner. Russia has denied any collision took place and said the drone went down after making “sharp manoeuvres”, having “provocatively” flown close to Russian air space.
Highlighting the risk of a Russia-U.S. clash, Moscow contended the air encounter showed the U.S. was directly involved in the Ukraine conflict, something Washington has taken pains to avoid for fear of worsening tensions between the two nuclear powers.
The Pentagon said it had indications Russia was trying to recover debris from the drone, which would be difficult to recover in very deep water. Russia said on Wednesday it would try to retrieve the remains but appeared to acknowledge the challenges.
Washington has said the drone no longer carried any valuable intelligence.
China, which has not condemned Russia for invading Ukraine, said it was concerned about the war intensifying and hoped Moscow and Kyiv would hold peace talks.
Investigations by an international panel said some of Russia’s actions since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, may be crimes against humanity. Russia dismissed the report released on Thursday, which said crimes included wilful killings and torture.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made no direct reference to the United Nations-mandated report in his nightly video address. He spoke in remembrance of those killed in the Russian bombing of a theatre in the southern city of Mariupol one year ago.
“Russian bombs destroyed the Mariupol theatre, a building used as a shelter. Women and children were inside. Some people were pregnant, others elderly,” Zelenskiy said.
No one knows the death toll for certain.
Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, though the conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions, pulverised Ukrainian cities, shaken the global economy and created a Cold War chill in international relations.
“The day will come when those guilty of war crimes against Ukraine will appear in the halls of the International Criminal Court and in national courtrooms,” Zelenskiy said.
Zelenskiy also made no direct reference to Bakhmut, the focal point for eight months of Russian attempts to advance through the industrial Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine bordering Russia.
Ukrainian forces were withstanding Russian assaults on the ruined city. Reuters reporters roughly 1.5 km (1 mile) from the front lines could hear the constant boom of artillery and the crackle of small arms fire.
Ihor, a 36-year-old soldier at the mortar position, said Ukrainian forces had been targeted by air strikes, mortar fire and tank shelling.
“You don’t always check on what’s flying over your head,” he added, crouching in a deep trench.
Bakhmut has become Europe’s bloodiest infantry battle since World War Two. Russian forces led by the Wagner private army have captured the city’s eastern part but have so far failed to encircle it.
“The situation in the city of Bakhmut remains on the brink of critical,” Oleh Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military analyst, said in a YouTube presentation. “Russian forces are hitting the same areas over and over again.”
Another Ukrainian military expert Roman Svitan, told Ukrainian NV Radio: “There is no point in withdrawing from the city right now. There is no danger now of encirclement. So we should hold not just Bakhmut, but also the line associated with Bakhmut.”
Russia has said it targeted Ukrainian infrastructure as part of what it calls its “special military operation” to degrade the Ukrainian military and remove what it says is a potential threat to its own security.
Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory from its pro-Western neighbour.
The United Nations backed Turkey and Ukraine by calling for a 120-day rollover of an agreement allowing the safe export of grain from several Ukrainian Black Sea ports.
Russia has said it would only extend the pact for 60 days without specifically saying why, although it has complained its own food and fertilizer exports are being hindered by Western sanctions.
Russia also said it might take over Toyota’s St Petersburg plant, state-run TASS new agency reported, after the Japanese car maker decided last year to end vehicle production in Russia due to supply chain disruptions in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
NAMI, Russia’s Central Automobile and Engine Research and Development Institute, has already snapped up plants from Renault and Nissan.