The Kremlin will try to recover the wreckage of an US drone that crashed into the Black Sea after being hit by a Russian fighter, a senior Russian official said yesterday.
It is a move that could further escalate tensions between Moscow and Washington.
In televised remarks, Russian security council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said: “I don’t know whether we’ll be able to retrieve it or not – but it has to be done. And we will certainly work on it.
“We must defend our independence, and sovereignty,” continued Mr Patrushev, adding the drone flight was another piece of “evidence the US are taking part” in the war in Ukraine.
Separately, the head of Russia’s SVR intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin, claimed Putin’s forces have the “technical” capabilities to retrieve the drone.
Washington said that a Russian Su-27 fighter had dumped fuel on its $32m (€30m) MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone, and then hit it, forcing it to crash into the Black Sea.
Russia’s defence ministry denies that its fighter came into contact with the drone and that it crashed due to “sharp manoeuvring”.
A Russian attempt to recover the drone could inflame the delicate situation.
“It has not been recovered, and I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to recover it,” said the US national security department spokesman John Kirby.
“Where it fell into the Black Sea is very, very deep water. So we’re still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort. There may not be.”
If the Russians were to recover the craft, US authorities have taken precautions to ensure that their ability to draw useful intelligence from it will be limited, Mr Kirby said, without expanding on what measures they had taken.
“That said, it’s our property,” Mr Kirby added, saying the US authorities will continue to explore recovery options.
The MQ-9 Reaper drone is 65ft wide, can fly at 480kmph, has a range of 2,000 km and can carry missiles. There are fears that if the technology falls into Russian hands, it would be shared with other US adversaries, including Iran and possibly North Korea.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops are defending positions in Bakhmut in east Ukraine, amid a relentless push by Russia to capture a city that has been turned into a wasteland by seven months of fighting.
Both sides claimed successes in what has become the longest-running battle since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago.
Ukrainian officials said that Ukrainian ground forces shot down a Russian fighter jet near Bakhmut and made gains in northern parts of the city.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the mercenary Wagner Group, which has spearheaded the Russian assault on the city, said in a social media post yesterday that Russian forces are expanding the encirclement of Bakhmut. The claim could not be verified.
The battle for Bakhmut intensified after Russian forces captured the nearby town of Soledar in January.
Russian forces must go through Bakhmut to push deeper into parts of the Donetsk province they do not yet control, though western officials say that the capture of the city would have limited impact on the war.
An assessment by the UK ministry of defence said that paramilitary units from the Wagner Group had seized eastern parts of Bakhmut, with a river flowing through the city marking the front line of the fighting.
Russian troops have enveloped the city from three sides, leaving only a narrow corridor leading west.
The only highway west has been targeted by Russian artillery fire, forcing Ukrainian defenders to rely increasingly on country roads, which are hard to use before the muddy ground dries.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the situation in Bakhmut with top military and intelligence officials on Tuesday and all agreed on the need to hold and defend the city, the presidential office said. (©Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2023)
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