Mon, 04 Dec 2023

Moscow will try to retrieve the remains of a US military surveillance drone brought down in the Black Sea after an encounter with Russian fighter planes, said a senior Russian security official on Wednesday. The US military said a Russian fighter jet clipped the drone's propeller. Russia denies responsibility for the crash. Follow our blog to see how the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

This live blog is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage on the war in Ukraine, please click here.

01:47am: Moldova no longer needs Russian gas, minister says

Ex-Soviet Moldova is no longer receiving Russian gas or enduring the "blackmail" imposed by gas giant Gazprom over its difficulties in paying for supplies, the country's energy minister said.

Victor Parlicov, speaking to TV8 television on Wednesday evening, said Gazprom had been providing supplies only to Moldova's Russian-backed Transdniestria separatist region since December, with none going to central authorities in Chisinau.

He said Moldova, wedged between Ukraine and European Union member Romania, was able to secure European supplies thanks to 300 million euros ($318 million) in credits from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

11:44pm: France accused of 'delaying' EU shells for Ukraine, reports The Telegraph

France was accused of slowing down a European Union 2-billion-euro ($2.12 billion) package for purchasing weapons for Ukraine by demanding that the munitions be manufactured inside the bloc, The Telegraph reported on Wednesday.

"Paris wanted guarantees that a deal to jointly procure weapons would only benefit firms based in the EU," the newspaper reported, quoting European sources.

9:32pm: Russia will 'react proportionately' to future US 'provocations': ministry

Russia has said it will react "proportionately" to any future US "provocations" as tensions raged over the Reaper drone that crashed over the Black Sea.

"Flights of American strategic unmanned aerial vehicles off the coast of Crimea are provocative in nature, which creates pre-conditions for an escalation of the situation in the Black Sea zone," the Russian defence ministry said. "Russia is not interested in such a development of events, but it will continue to respond proportionately to all provocations."

8:30pm: 'Aggressive' Russian behaviour was 'intentional': top US military officials

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters the incident over the Black Sea was part of a "pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace".

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who also appeared at the briefing, said, "We know that the intercept was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional," but whether the collision itself was intentional was still unclear.

8:01pm: Drone debris would be 'difficult' to recover, says Gen. Milley

The US took "mitigating measures" to ensure that there was nothing of value on the downed Reaper drone, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told reporters at a joint press conference with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Milley added that is was likely that the drone broke upon impact in the Black Sea, in 4,000 to 5,000 feet of water, and would be difficult to recover.

7:48pm: US will fly 'wherever international law allows', Lloyd tells Shoigu

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has told reporters that his message during the phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu was that the US will continue flying its aircraft in international airspace.

"The United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows," said Austin. "And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner," he said.

7:28pm: US, Russian military chiefs resume contact to discuss drone

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said he spoke to his Russian counterpart a day after the destruction of the US Reaper drone over the Black Sea. It was the first call between Austin and Russian Defence Secretary Sergei Shoigu since October.

"I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, Minister Shoigu," Austin said at a Pentagon press briefing. "As I've said repeatedly, it's important that great powers be models of transparency and communication, and the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows."

The Pentagon press briefing followed a short Russian readout of the call between Austin and Shoigu. "At the initiative of the American side, telephone talks were held between Russian Defence Minister Army General Sergei Shoigu and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin," the Russian defence ministry said without providing further details.

6:12pm: EU parliament urges tougher sanctions on Belarus

The European Parliament has urged EU countries to impose new sanctions on Belarus over its crackdown on the opposition and support for Russia's war in Ukraine.

The 27-nation bloc has already hit Minsk with multiple rounds of sanctions over its domestic repression and role as a springboard for Moscow's invasion.

Lawmakers approved a non-binding resolution calling for the EU to broaden the list of those targeted over the clampdown, in a vote that followed the sentencing of Nobel Prize winning activist Ales Bialiatski to 10 years in jail.

They said more "judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement, prison and penal colony officials" should be included on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist.

EU officials had hoped to toughen sanctions on Belarus over the conflict in February, but the move has remained snarled over a disagreement on exemptions for fertilisers.

5:08pm: Russia begins naval drills with China, Iran

Russia has started naval exercises with China and Iran in the Arabian Sea as it seeks to shore up ties with Beijing and Tehran.

The Russian defence ministry said in a statement that the trilateral exercises dubbed the "Marine Security Belt 2023" had begun in the vicinity of the Iranian port of Chabahar.

The naval part of the drills will take place on Thursday and Friday.

Russia will be represented by the Admiral Gorshkov frigate and a medium-sized tanker, the ministry said.

During the naval drills, the ships will perform "joint manoeuvres and will carry out artillery firing in daytime and at night", the statement said.

3:26pm: Russia wants to recover debris of downed US drone

Russia wants to recover the fragments of the US MQ-9 Reaper drone that American forces brought down in the Black Sea, said Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia's Security Council.

"I don't know if we can recover them or not, but we will certainly have to do that, and we will deal with it," Patrushev said. "I certainly hope for success."

White House spokesman John Kirby has said the drone may never be recovered, but that US authorities had taken precautions to ensure Russia's ability to draw useful intelligence from the craft would be limited if a Russian team attempted to recover the wreckage.

3:10pm: UK, German fighter jets intercept Russian plane near Estonia

British and German air force fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace, said the UK defence ministry, amid mounting concerns about confrontation in the skies near Russia and Ukraine.

The UK and Germany are conducting joint air policing missions in Estonia as part of NATO efforts to bolster its eastern flank in response to Russia.

Britain's defense ministry said the Typhoon jets responded Tuesday after a Russian air-to-air refueling aircraft failed to communicate with Estonian air traffic control. The Russian plane didn't enter the airspace of Estonia, a NATO member.

UK and German planes are patrolling together as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission until the end-April.

Such interceptions are routine - even before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, NATO planes were involved in about 400 interceptions a year with Russian aircraft. But the incident comes amid heightened tensions after Tuesday's collision between a Russian jet and a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea.

1:48pm: US calls on Russia to operate military aircraft safely

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin called Wednesday for Moscow to operate its aircraft safely and professionally, saying a collision between a Russian warplane and a US drone is part of a pattern of "risky" actions.

Washington says a Russian Su-27 clipped an MQ-9 the day before, leaving the drone uncontrollable and requiring it to be brought down in the Black Sea, while Moscow denies responsibility.

"This hazardous episode is a part of a pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace," Austin said at the start of a meeting of countries supporting Ukraine's fight against invading Russian forces.

"Make no mistake, the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows. And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner," he added.

Russia's war in Ukraine has led to heightened fears of a direct confrontation between Moscow and the NATO alliance, which has been arming Kyiv to help it defend itself.

11:45am: Relations with US in dire state amid drone incident, Kremlin says

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 US 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".

11:17am: Russia says it downed three missiles over southern region of Belgorod

Russia said its forces shot down three missiles over the southern border region of Belgorod, the latest spillover of fighting from Ukraine.

"Three missiles were shot down by the air defence system over Belgorod and the Belgorodsky district. Debris hit Belgorod's residential sector. There is damage," Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a statement late Tuesday.

Belgorod Mayor Valentin Demidov said nine homes and four apartment buildings had been damaged by debris but added that no one had been hurt.

10:56am: Putin wants to 'expand' war after US drone crash, Ukraine says

Kyiv accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Wednesday of trying to widen the conflict in Ukraine after Washington said Russian fighter jets intercepted a US drone over the Black Sea, causing it to crash.

"The incident with the American MQ-9 Reaper UAV - provoked by Russia over the Black Sea - is Putin's way of signalling his readiness to expand the conflict to involve other parties. The purpose of this all-in tactic is to always be raising the stakes," Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council secretary Oleksiy Danilov said on social media.

10:36am: Turkey closely following US drone incident in Black Sea, Demiroren news agency reports

Turkey is closely monitoring the incident in which a US military drone crashed in the Black Sea after being intercepted by Russian jets, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was reported as saying by Demiroren news agency on Wednesday.

Akar also said they have made several contacts about the incident without giving further details, the Demiroren agency reported.

10:33am: Russia's oil revenue sinks as sanctions bite, IEA says

Russia's oil export revenue sank 42 percent in February as Western powers tightened sanctions on the country in the wake of the Ukraine war, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

The country earned $11.6 billion from its oil exports last month after the European Union imposed a ban on Russian petroleum products alongside a price cap agreed with the Group of Seven and Australia.

10:15am: Turkey could ratify Finland's NATO bid ahead of May 14 elections, Turkish officials say

Turkey is planning to approve Finland's NATO bid, independently from Sweden's, ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14, two Turkish officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Turkish parliament is highly likely to ratify Finland's NATO membership before it closes mid-April for elections, the officials said.

Finland's President Sauli Niinisto will visit Turkey on Friday to discuss his country's bid to join NATO with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.

10:15am: Russia moves to suspend tax treaties with 'unfriendly' countries

Russia has proposed suspending its double taxation agreements with what it calls "unfriendly countries" - those that have imposed sanctions on Moscow, the Finance Ministry said on Wednesday.

"The Russian Finance Ministry and Foreign Ministry proposed that the President of Russia issue a decree suspending double taxation agreements with all countries that introduced unilateral economic restrictive measures against Russia," it said.

9:03am: Danish government establishes $1 bln fund to aid Ukraine

The Danish government and a broad majority of parties in Denmark's parliament have agreed to establish a fund of 7 billion Danish crowns ($1.01 billion) for civil, military and business aid to Ukraine, the finance ministry said on Wednesday.

6:18am: US says Russian warplane strikes US drone over Black Sea

A Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a US surveillance drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, forcing the US military to bring down the unmanned aerial vehicle.

State Department spokesman Ned Price called the act a "brazen violation of international law". He said the US had summoned the Russian ambassador to lodge a protest while the US ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, has made similar representations in Moscow.

But Russia insisted its warplanes didn't hit the MQ-9 Reaper drone. Instead, it said the drone maneuvered sharply and crashed into the water following an encounter with Russian fighter jets that had been scrambled to intercept it near Crimea.

The incident, which added to Russia-US tensions over Moscow's war in Ukraine, appeared to be the first time since the height of the Cold War that a US aircraft was brought down after an encounter with a Russian warplane.

4:08am: Moscow sees drone incident as a 'provocation'

Russia views the drone incident, which involved one of its Su-27 fighter jets over the Black Sea, as a "provocation", its ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said in remarks published early on Wednesday.

"The American UAV deliberately and provocatively was moving towards Russian territory with transponders turned off," Antonov said in remarks posted on his embassy's website, referring to the drone as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

"We view this incident as a provocation," Antonov told Russian agencies on Tuesday after being summoned by the US State Department.

11:19pm: White phosphorus munitions fired in eastern Ukraine, AFP reports

White phosphorus munitions were fired on Tuesday from Russian positions on an uninhabited area by the town of Chasiv Yar in eastern Ukraine, AFP journalists reported.

Two projectiles were fired five minutes apart at around 4:45pm on a road at the southern edge of Chasiv Yar leading to nearby Bakhmut, the centre of the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia's year-long invasion.

The whistling sound from the projectiles was followed by explosions caused by munitions that released small, burning balls of white phosphorus that slowly fell to the ground.

The balls set fire to the vegetation on both sides of the road on a surface equivalent to the size of a football pitch.

AFP was not able to confirm if the targeted site was a position held by Ukrainian forces, but a green truck with a white cross, a sign of Ukraine's army, was parked by a path in the burned area.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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