Russia said it will try to retrieve wreckage of US drone it downed over the Black Sea

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1 hr 48 min ago

Exclusive: Chinese-made drone, retrofitted and weaponized, downed in eastern Ukraine

From CNN's Rebecca Wright, Ivan Watson, Olha Konovalova and Tom Booth in eastern Ukraine

The downed drone is seen on Monday in eastern Ukraine.The downed drone is seen on Monday in eastern Ukraine. (Rebecca Wright/CNN)

Driving deep into the forest, the hush between the towering pine trees and the clear blue skies was splintered every few seconds by the sound of distant explosions from the frontline battles for eastern Ukraine.

Guiding us through the woodland on foot, Ukrainian soldiers eventually brought us to a clearing where they showed us the wreckage of a weaponized drone which they said they shot down with their AK-47 automatic weapons over the weekend.

The drone was a Mugin-5, a commercial unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made by a Chinese manufacturer based in the port city of Xiamen, on China’s eastern coast.

Some tech bloggers say the machines are known as "Alibaba drones" as they have been available for sale for up to $15,000 on Chinese marketplace websites including Alibaba and Taobao.

Mugin Limited confirmed to CNN that it was their airframe, calling the incident “deeply unfortunate.”

It’s the latest example of a civilian drone being retrofitted and weaponized since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a sign of the rapidly shifting patterns of warfare.

“Along the front lines, basically all the time we’re conducting aerial reconnaissance,” said Maksim, a 35-year-old territorial defense fighter who only wanted to go by his first name.

Read more here.

2 hr 17 min ago

From a downed US drone to intense fighting in Bakhmut: Here's what to know to get up to speed

From CNN staff

Ukrainian service members fire a howitzer M119 at a front line near the city of┬áBakhmut on March 10.Ukrainian service members fire a howitzer M119 at a front line near the city of Bakhmut on March 10. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters)

US officials say they likely will not be able to retrieve a drone forced down by Russian jets in the Black Sea. The incident is part of a pattern of “aggressive, risky and unsafe" behavior from Russia, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the incident is under investigation and that the US is in "close coordination" with allies.

Here's everything to know to get up to speed:

  • What to know about the drone intercept: While flying in international airspace over the Black Sea, a Russian Su-27 jet dumped fuel on a US MQ-9 Reaper drone several times, US military and defense officials said. One of the Russian jets then hit the drone, damaging it and forcing US officials to crash it into the water, Austin said. The US Air Force primarily uses the MQ-9 drone to collect intelligence, according to the service’s website.
  • Recovery efforts: The Russians have reached the MQ-9 crash site in the Black Sea, according to two US officials, as the Kremlin promises to attempt to recover the US drone. The aircraft will likely not be recovered by the US, but sensitive software on the drone was remotely erased before it crashed to prevent Russia from collecting secret information, according to two US officials. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the drone fell into very deep water and the Navy does not have any vessels in the area, making recovery efforts difficult.
  • Russian response: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the US of "ignoring" the airspace restrictions that Russia imposed in the coastal regions of the Black Sea since the start of the war with Ukraine. The Kremlin said relations between Russia and the US are at their “lowest point” and in a “deplorable state,” following the drone's downing. Moscow has also denied its fighter jets came "into contact" with the US drone. Milley said US officials have "absolute evidence" that the two aircraft came into contact, but said they are not sure if it was intentional. Milley, however, did reiterate that "the aggressive behavior was intentional."

Here are the other key headlines from the war:

  • Battle in Bakhmut: In a city still seeing intense fighting, Austin applauded the "valor" and the "persistence" of the Ukrainian soldiers fighting in Bakhmut. Fewer than 3,000 people remain in the embattled city, according to the Donetsk regional military administration. A soldier from Ukraine's 93rd Mechanized Brigade destroyed a Russian jet over Bakhmut Wednesday, according to a commander.
  • Why this matters: President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that a Russian capture of Bakhmut would give them an “open road” to capturing other key Ukrainian cities in the east. Milley said any decision on whether Ukrainian forces should remain in the eastern city or be repositioned would be made by Zelensky.
  • Russian movement: Russia is making "small tactical advances" around Bakhmut, but "at great cost," Milley said. Meantime, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said his fighters have captured a small settlement north of Bakhmut earlier on Wednesday. Prigozhin also acknowledged that a small number of Afghan fighters are working with the private military company.
2 hr 33 min ago

Senior Russian defense officials approved harassment of US drone, sources say

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Natasha Bertrand

Senior officials at Russia's Ministry of Defense gave the order for Russian fighter jets to harass a US drone over the Black Sea this week, according to two US officials familiar with the intelligence.

The high-level military officials’ connection to the incident suggests the fighter jet pilots were not taking rogue action when they interfered with the US drone.

However, at this time there is no indication that the highest of political leaders in Russia — particularly those in the Kremlin, including President Vladimir Putin — knew about the planned aggression in advance, one of the US officials said.

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday night indicated there was likely high-level approval of the harassment.

“Our aircraft, our drones have been harassed by Russian pilots almost consistently. And to say that that consistent pattern is the — consequence of pilots doing this, Russian pilots doing this on their own volition, that just didn’t ring true,” Price told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Wednesday night. “The fact that we’ve seen a pattern on the part of the forces of the Russian Federation suggests to us at least there’s at least some senior level approval of this kind of activity.”

Whether or not the military officials set out to design an incident where the fighter jets would come into physical contact with the drone remains unclear. 

“We know that the intercept was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional, and we also know it was very unprofessional and very unsafe,” said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley at a news conference on Wednesday. “The actual contact of the fixed-wing Russian fighter with our UAV, the physical contact with those two, not sure yet.”

Milley also sought to downplay any immediate rolling out of a repercussion for Russia, beyond the stern public and private warnings against Russian aggressions in international airspaces. 

“We do not seek armed conflict with Russia, and I believe that at this point, we should investigate this incident and move on from there,” Milley said.

5 hr ago

Russian forces have reached the MQ-9 crash site, US officials say

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

The Russians have reached the MQ-9 crash site in the Black Sea, according to two US officials, as the Kremlin promises to attempt to recover the US surveillance drone.

Russia’s Navy has several ships in the Black Sea, including ships based in Crimean ports, which would have placed them in an advantageous position to attempt to recover the US MQ-9 Reaper drone after its encounter with Russian fighter jets on Tuesday.

The drone came down in international waters approximately 70 miles southwest of Crimea, one of the officials said. It is unclear if Russia was able to recover any of the wreckage from the drone when they arrived at the crash site.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby would not confirm that Russians were at the site. He reiterated however that the US took steps to make it "impossible" for Russia to acquire any useful information from the drone's remnants.

"Whatever's left of that that's floating will probably be flight control surfaces, that kind of thing," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "Probably nothing of real intrinsic value to them in terms of re-engineering or anything like that. We're not overly concerned about whatever they might get their hands on."
He added: "It's our property and they have no business recovering anything."

The Russian Security Council Secretary said Wednesday that Russia will try to obtain the drone wreckage to study it.

“I don’t know if we will be able to get it or not, but we need to do it... And we will definitely look into it,” Nikolai Patrushev said on Russian state TV Rossiya 1.

The drone landed in a part of the Black Sea that’s likely almost a mile deep, Gen. Mark Milley said, making any recovery effort extremely difficult. The US also has no Navy ships in the Black Sea, compounding the challenges in any US recovery attempt.

5 hr 58 min ago

Russian foreign minister blames US for "ignoring" Black Sea airspace restrictions

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the United States on Wednesday of "ignoring" the airspace restrictions that Russia imposed in the coastal regions of the Black Sea since the start of the war with Ukraine. 

"They completely ignore the fact that after the start of a special military operation, our military declared the relevant areas of the Black Sea, adjacent in certain places, as areas with a limited status for the use of any aircraft," Lavrov said in an interview with Russian state TV Rossiya-1.

Lavrov also blamed the US for "constantly looking for provocations aimed at increasing tensions."

"Any incidents that provoke a clash between the two great nuclear powers always pose a great risk," he said.

5 hr 59 min ago

Call between US and Russian officials focused on "causes and consequences" of drone incident, Moscow says 

From CNN’s Katharina Krebs

The main focus of a telephone conversation between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on Wednesday was on the "causes and consequences" of the downing of a US drone over the Black Sea, the Russian defense ministry said.

Shoigu told Austin the incident was "caused by the US actions of non-compliance with the flight restriction zone declared by the Russian Federation" established in connection with the special military operation in the region, according to a readout.

"It is noted that the US flights of strategic unmanned aerial vehicles off the coast of Crimea are provocative in nature, which creates preconditions for the escalation of the situation in the Black Sea area," the readout said.

Shoigu said Russia "will continue to respond to all provocations in a proportionate manner," according to the readout of the call.

Some context: The US said that while flying in international airspace over the Black Sea, a Russian Su-27 jet dumped fuel on a US MQ-9 Reaper drone several times. One of the Russian jets then hit the drone, damaging it and forcing US officials to crash it into the water.

6 hr ago

Soldier destroyed a Russian Su-25 jet over Bakhmut, Ukrainian commander says 

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Olga Voitovych 

A soldier from Ukraine's 93rd Mechanized Brigade destroyed a Russian Su-25 jet over Bakhmut, according to a commander.

The announcement comes after the head of Ukraine's President’s Office, Andriy Yermak, also said forces from the 93rd Mechanized Brigade had shot down a Russian military plane near Bakhmut. 

Commander Oleksandr Syrskyi of the Land Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said the Russian military "continues to unsuccessfully try to surround the city and advance."

"The soldiers of the 93rd Brigade, along with other defenders, are holding back the enemy's fierce pressure there. Due to their work, enemy tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, MLRS and ammunition depots are blown up," Syrskyi said in a Telegram post. 

"The occupiers are also putting pressure on the Kupiansk and Lyman directions," he said, adding that soldiers from the 92nd Brigade have managed to destroy Russian radar systems and command centers in those directions. 

CNN has been unable to confirm the Ukrainian claims.

6 hr 1 min ago

2 killed in Russian shelling in Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Radina Gigova

Russian shelling killed at least two people and injured five others in Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region on Wednesday, Serhii Lysak, the head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, said in a Telegram post. 

Two women, ages 62 and 57, were killed in the city of Marhanets, he said. According to preliminary information, a man and three women were hospitalized, and another injured woman will be treated on an outpatient basis, he said. 

More than a dozen multistory buildings and several private houses in Marhanets were damaged in the shelling, the regional administration said in a separate post. 

"One of them caught fire — rescuers have already extinguished the fire. A shop, a cultural center and a dormitory were damaged," the regional administration said. 
6 hr 2 min ago

US not sure if Russian jet's physical contact with drone was intentional, top military official says

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the United States does not know if the Russian fighter jet intentionally hit the American drone over the Black Sea.

This is something officials are looking into, he said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that he has a call scheduled with his Russian counterpart to discuss that point, among other things.

"We know that the intercept was intentional, we know that the aggressive behavior was intentional, we also know it was very unprofessional and very unsafe," Milley said.

As for the physical contact between the jet and drone "that remains to be seen."

However, Milley said the US has "absolute evidence of the contact and the intercept."

US officials have said two Russian jets dumped fuel on the US MQ-9 drone Tuesday in international airspace. Then, one jet "struck our MQ-9 aircraft, resulting in a crash," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Russia has denied that it had direct contact with the drone.

"There's no question that that part of it's intentional," Milley said, referring to the jets dumping fuel on the drone. "The actual physical contact of the aircraft, that I'm not so sure."
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