Moscow accuses the US of direct involvement in the Ukraine war
Wars of attrition drag on in the eastern city of Bakhmut
Some Russian actions in Ukraine are war crimes – investigation
WASHINGTON/NEAR BAKHMUT, Ukraine, March 17 (Reuters) – The Pentagon released a video on Thursday in which it provided evidence that a Russian fighter jet cut off the propeller of a US spy drone and crashed into the Black Sea this week despite Russia’s denial.
The 40-second video was filmed by the MQ-9 Reaper drone as it conducted regular reconnaissance in international airspace two days ago near Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow forcibly annexed in 2014.
The video showed what the Pentagon said, two Russian Su-27 fighter jets approached the drone and released jet fuel at it in harassing behavior. After a second flyby of the jets, the video pauses and continues with images of the drone’s damaged propeller.
US officials have accused the Russian jets of unsafe behavior. Russia has denied there was a collision and said the drone crashed after “sharp manoeuvres” after flying “provocatively” near Russian airspace.
Moscow highlighted the risk of a clash between Russia and the US, claiming the air encounter shows the US is directly involved in the Ukraine conflict, which Washington has been trying to avoid for fear of escalating tensions between the two nuclear powers.
The Pentagon said it had indications that Russia was attempting to recover debris from the drone, which is difficult to recover in very deep water. Russia said on Wednesday it would try to recover the remains but appeared to acknowledge the challenges.
Washington said the drone no longer carried any valuable information.
China, which has not condemned Russia for invading Ukraine, said it was concerned about the intensification of the war and hoped Moscow and Kiev would hold peace talks.
WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATION
According to investigations by an international body, some of Russia’s actions since invading Ukraine on February 24, 2022 may constitute crimes against humanity. Russia dismissed the report released on Thursday, which said the crimes included premeditated killings and torture.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made no direct reference to the report commissioned by the United Nations in his nightly video address. He spoke in memory of the victims of the Russian bombing of a theater in the southern city of Mariupol a year ago.
“Russian bombs destroyed the Mariupol Theater, a building used as a shelter. Women and children were in it. Some people were pregnant, others were elderly,” said Zelenskyy.
No one knows the exact death toll.
Moscow denies targeting civilians even as the conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions, pulverized Ukrainian cities, shaken the global economy and created a Cold War chill in international relations.
“The day will come when those found guilty of war crimes against Ukraine will appear in the halls of the International Criminal Court and in national courtrooms,” said Zelenskyy.
Zelenskyi also made no direct reference to Bakhmut, who for the past eight months has been the focus of Russian attempts to advance through the Donetsk industrial region of eastern Ukraine, which borders Russia.
Ukrainian forces resisted Russian attacks on the devastated city. Reuters reporters about 1 mile (1.5 km) from the front could hear the constant bang of artillery and the crackle of small arms fire.
Ihor, a 36-year-old soldier in the mortar position, said Ukrainian forces have been the target of airstrikes, mortar fire and tank fire.
“You don’t always pay attention to what’s flying over your head,” he added, crouching in a deep ditch.
Bakhmut is Europe’s bloodiest infantry battle since World War II. Russian forces led by the Wagner Private Army have taken the eastern part of the city but have so far failed to encircle it.
“The situation in the city of Bakhmut remains on the brink of criticality,” said Oleh Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military analyst, in a YouTube presentation. “Russian forces strike the same areas over and over again.”
Another Ukrainian military expert, Roman Svitan, told Ukraine’s NV Radio: “There’s no point in withdrawing from the city now. There is now no danger of encirclement. So we should hold not only Bakhmut but also the lineage connected to Bakhmut.”
Russia has said it attacked Ukraine’s infrastructure as part of its so-called “military special operation” to demote Ukraine’s military and eliminate a potential threat to its own security.
Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of waging an unprovoked war to wrest territory from its pro-Western neighbor.
GRAIN EXPORT DEAL
The United Nations backed Turkey and Ukraine by demanding a 120-day extension of an agreement allowing for the safe export of grain from several Ukrainian Black Sea ports.
Russia has said it will only extend the pact by 60 days without specifically saying why, although it has complained that its own food and fertilizer exports are being hampered by Western sanctions.
Russia also said it could take over Toyota’s (7203.T) plant in St. Petersburg, state new agency TASS reported, after the Japanese automaker decided last year to stop vehicle production in Russia due to supply chain disruptions after the Cease invasion of Ukraine.
NAMI, Russia’s central research and development institute for automobiles and engines, has already bought plants from Renault and Nissan.
Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing from Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast.; Editing by Cynthia Osterman
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