Russia gives awards to Su-27 pilots who confronted U.S. drone over Black Sea
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented awards to the Su-27 fighter jet pilots that made close passes with and then sprayed fuel onto a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea, Russian state news agency RIA reported.
The incident Tuesday was the first direct encounter between Russia and the U.S. since the start of the Ukraine war. The U.S. called it a reckless and dangerous act of harassment, while Moscow argued the U.S. was violating Russian airspace.
Russian and U.S. defense chiefs held rare phone calls the on Wednesday after the incident to discuss what had happened. Moscow initially denied any encounter had taken place, insisting that the drone crashed because of its own movements and because it was “provocatively” flying close to its airspace near Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
The Pentagon released a video shortly thereafter confirming the U.S. account of the incident, where an approaching jet can be seen dumping a chemical substance over the drone. The drone later crashed into the sea, and although the Pentagon said it remotely wiped the drone of its data, it is unlikely to be able to retrieve it, whereas the Russians will likely be able to do so themselves.
Shoigu on Friday presented the Russian pilots with awards for “preventing the violation of the borders of the special operation area by the American MQ-9 Reaper drone,” RIA reported.
— Natasha Turak
Kyiv will reduce its wartime curfew hours to help businesses
Guests sit in a bar in the evening in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, February 2023
Ukraine’s capital Kyiv will reduce its wartime curfew by an hour in the evenings, the Kyiv city administration chief Serhiy Popko said, in a measure aimed at supporting businesses affected by the curfew.
The curfew period will soon start at midnight instead of 11:00 p.m., which Popko said will allow for more time for public transport and “should help reduce social tension, increase production, create new jobs.”
Residents of Kyiv and other cities around Ukraine have been subject to regional curfews since the war began, with people who are still out beyond the designated times having to face fines and questioning from police patrolling the streets.
Bars and restaurants had to close by 9:30 p.m. to allow staff to get home, while some venues in Kyiv started running daytime events on weekends, with much of the profits going to Ukraine’s armed forces. Closing times will now be moved to 10:30 p.m. instead, officials said.
— Natasha Turak
UK calls on China to tell Putin to withdraw troops from Ukraine during Xi visit
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to China’s President Xi Jinping during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization leaders’ summit in Samarkand on Sept. 16, 2022.
Sergei Bobylyov | AFP | Getty Images
The UK is calling on China to ask Russian leader Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine during Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s Russia visit next week.
“If China wants to play a genuine role in restoring sovereignty to Ukraine, then we would obviously welcome that,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
“We’re clear that any peace deal which is not predicated on Ukraine’s sovereignty and self determination is not a peace deal at all. So we will continue to call on China, as we have done before, to join other countries across the world in calling on Putin to withdraw his troops,” the spokesperson added.
China’s foreign ministry and the Kremlin both confirmed Friday that Xi would be making a visit to Moscow from March 20 to 22, at Putin’s invitation, which will be the Chinese premier’s first visit to Russia since the full-scale war in Ukraine began.
The two countries celebrated a partnership with “no limits” in early 2022, just before Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Beijing still refuses to call Russia’s actions an invasion or take part in Western sanctions against Russia.
— Natasha Turak
Slovakia to send 13 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine
Two Polish MiG-29s sit at an airbase in Malbork, Poland, in this file photo from August 2021.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Slovakia’s government approved a measure to send its Soviet-era MiG jets to Ukraine, officials said. The jets are in varying states of readiness and were retired last summer, so will likely need substantial maintenance to be operational.
The Eastern European NATO member announced it would send 13 of the jets to Ukraine, one day after Poland said it would supply Kyiv with four of its jets. Ukraine has long requested fighter jets in order to protect its skies against Russian attacks and combat Russian forces in the country.
“#Slovak gov. just approved sending 13 #MiG29s to #Ukraine! Promises must be kept&when ZelenskyyUa asked for more #weapons incl. fighter jets, I said we’ll do our best. Glad others’re doing the same,” Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger wrote on Twitter.
NATO allies’ granting of Kyiv’s request more than a year into the war signals a significant shift in their willingness to send Ukraine advanced weaponry that could further provoke Russia as well as give Ukrainian forces a major edge in the fighting.
— Natasha Turak
Russian and Wagner Group forces gaining ground in Bakhmut, but broader offensive is slowing: UK MoD
Russian and Wagner Group forces have gained ground in the embattled city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where brutal fighting has continued for months, Britain’s Ministry of Defense wrote in its daily intelligence update.
“In recent days, Russian and Wagner Group forces have obtained footholds west of the Bakhmutka River in the centre of the contested Donbas town of Bakhmut. Over the preceding week, the river had marked the front line. Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to defend the west of the town,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.
However, it added, “more broadly across the front line, Russia is conducting some of the lowest rates of local offensive action that has been seen since at least January 2023.”
That’s likely because “Russian forces have temporarily depleted the deployed formations’ combat power to such an extent that even local offensive actions are not currently sustainable,” and Russian leaders “will likely seek to regenerate the offensive potential of the force once personnel and munition stocks are replenished,” it said.
— Natasha Turak
China’s Xi set to visit Russia next week in first visit since Putin ordered invasion of Ukraine
Poland to send Ukraine 4 MiG-29 jets in coming days, says president
An army MiG-29 aircraft exhibited at the presentation of the aircraft AWACS E-3A Component from the Geilenkirchenand the F-16 and MiG-29 from the 31. and 33.
Darek Majewski | Gallo Images | Getty Images
Poland will send Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets in coming days, the president said on Thursday, making it the first of Kyiv’s allies to provide such aircraft.
One of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, Warsaw has taken a leading role in persuading sometimes hesitant allies to provide Kyiv with heavy weaponry. It has said that any transfer of jets would be as part of a coalition.
“Firstly, literally within the next few days, we will hand over, as far as I remember, four aircraft to Ukraine in full working order,” Andrzej Duda told a news conference.
“The rest are being prepared, serviced.”
On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that deliveries could be made in four to six weeks. Duda said that Poland had roughly 10-20 MiG 29 jets.
NATO allies in the former communist east such as Poland and Slovakia have been particularly vocal supporters of Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Slovakia has also been considering whether to send MiG-29 jets to Ukraine but has yet to reach a decision. Poland has sent 14 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Asked last week how many MiG-29 planes Warsaw might supply, the head of the president’s office, Pawel Szrot, said it would “certainly not” be as many as 14.
Zelenskyy calls for tribunal to punish Russia for alleged war crimes
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signaled Kyiv is preparing its soldiers for counteroffensives and praised soldiers for defending the country despite the “insane pressure” Russian forces have been putting on them.
Julien De Rosa | Pool | Reuters
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again called for a tribunal to punish Russia for war crimes alleged to have been committed over more than a year of its invasion of Ukraine.
“The day will come and a tribunal will be created that will restore justice to our people. A tribunal that will punish this aggressor in the same way that past aggressors were punished,” he said in a nightly address, according to an NBC News translation.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine is “mobilizing all partners necessary for this.”
Russia has previously said it does not target civilians.
— Jacob Pramuk
Blinken says it’s ‘imperative’ that Russia allow Black Sea grain deal to continue
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken attends the Freedom of Expression Roundtable, in New York, U.S., September 19, 2022.
Craig Ruttle | Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it is “imperative” that Russia allow the deal that reopened key Ukrainian ports to continue.
Speaking during a trip to Niger, the top U.S. diplomat said the Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped to alleviate food insecurity caused by the war and a Russian naval blockade, which held up critical Ukrainian agriculture exports to the world.
“So millions of people around the world and especially here in Africa, rely on this initiative to help deal with food insecurity. It’s imperative that it continue, and it’s imperative that Russia allow it to continue,” he said, according to NBC News.
Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations are holding discussions on extending the agreement.