US Secretary of State Blinken says drone incident with Russia "is being investigated"
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Russia’s downing of a US drone over the Black Sea “is being investigated.”
Speaking at a news conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Blinken declined to speak to the motive or intent behind the incident, saying he would let the investigation proceed.
“What I can say very clearly is this was a reckless and unsafe action,” Blinken said.
Blinken said the US is “in close coordination” with allies and partners on the matter.
1:40 p.m. ET, March 15, 2023
Wagner leader says fighters have captured small settlement north of Bakhmut
From CNN's Radina Gigova and Olga Voitovych
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said his fighters have captured a small settlement north of Bakhmut earlier on Wednesday.
In an audio message published on his media Telegram channel, Prigozhin claims Wagner fighters have captured the settlement of Zaliznianske, located about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) north of the embattled city.
"In the absence of ammunition, amid a projectile famine, in the hardest battles, the assault troops are widening the encirclement of Bakhmut. Zaliznianske settlement was taken by Wagner PMC assault troops this morning," he said.
CNN is unable to independently verify his claims.
In his message, Prigozhin again highlights what he calls "a projectile famine," alluding to tensions with Russia's Defense Ministry.
Prigozhin has frequently complained that his fighters are not receiving enough ammunition while doing the bulk of the fighting around Bakhmut.
1:41 p.m. ET, March 15, 2023
Top US general expected to talk to Russian counterpart, Pentagon says
From CNN's Oren Liebermann
The top US general is expected to speak with his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, a US defense official tells CNN, one day after a Russian jet collided with a US drone over the Black Sea in international airspace.
Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley is expected to speak with the Chief of Russian General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, by telephone on Wednesday, after the US and Russia put out different accounts of the incident over the Black Sea.
The two military leaders have not spoken since late December.
More on this: It is unclear whether Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will also speak with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Such conversations often happen in tandem, with the top generals holding a conversation after the defense secretary and defense minister have spoken.
1:33 p.m. ET, March 15, 2023
A closer look at the American MQ-9 Reaper drone forced down by Russian jets
An American MQ-9 Reaper drone was forced down by Russian fighter jets over the Black Sea Tuesday — the first known interaction between US and Russian forces of this nature since the war in Ukraine began just over a year ago.
This type of US drone is remotely piloted and primarily used for collecting intelligence.
The move by Russia to use a fighter jet to take it down was "combative," Ret. US Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton said in an analysis.
"They have this very sophisticated jet they're using to go after a really, what amounts to, a surveillance drone and they will do anything they can not only to irritate us but to destroy our capabilities," he said.
Here's a closer look at the US drone:
12:38 p.m. ET, March 15, 2023
US erased sensitive software on drone remotely before it crashed into Black Sea
From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Natasha Bertrand
The United States erased sensitive software on the MQ-9 Reaper drone remotely before it crashed into the Black Sea to prevent Russia from collecting secret information, according to two US officials.
The steps to wipe the software were taken after the encounter between the drone and two Russian Su-27 fighter jets. The Russian jets dumped jet fuel in front of the US surveillance drone early Tuesday morning, after which one of the Russian jets collided with the drone, damaging its propellor and forcing the US to bring it down in the Black Sea.
On Wednesday, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, said Russia will try to retrieve wreckage of the drone. Patrushev was formerly the chief of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) – the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB.
“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,” Patrushev said on Russian state TV Rossiya 1.
The US does not have any Navy ships in the Black Sea, according to a Navy official, which would make any attempted US recovery effort extremely difficult and time-consuming.
On Tuesday, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said the US has taken steps to protect the “equities” associated with the drone.
“Without getting into too much detail, what I can say is that we've taken steps to protect our equities with respect to that particular drone — that particular aircraft. And it’s the United States' property. We obviously don't want to see anybody getting their hands on it beyond us,” Kirby said.
The mid-air encounter occurred approximately 45 miles southwest of the Crimean peninsula, one US official said. The drone landed approximately 70 miles southwest of Crimea after gliding away from the occupied territory, the official added.
12:26 p.m. ET, March 15, 2023
US drone downing “inevitable” as long as Russia controls Crimea, says Ukraine's foreign minister
From CNN’s Catherine Nicholls in London
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday that the apparent downing of a US drone over the Black Sea by a Russian fighter jet was “inevitable.”
“As long as Russia controls Crimea, these kinds of incidents will be inevitable and the Black Sea will not be a safe place,” he said in an interview with the BBC, adding that the “only way to prevent such incidents is actually to kick Russia out of Crimea.”
When asked whether he believed the incident might make the US more cautious in its approach to the conflict, Kuleba told the BBC he did not believe that this was the case.
"The mood is not to escalate but nor is the mood to lean under the pressure — the physical or rhetorical pressure — of Russia,” he said.
12:13 p.m. ET, March 15, 2023
What you need to know about the squabble between the US and Russia over a downed drone
From CNN's Rob Picheta
The Russian downing of a US drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday has prompted a diplomatic spat and a race to recover some highly classified technology.
The White House slammed Moscow’s actions as “unsafe, unprofessional and reckless” while Russia’s defense ministry denied its aircraft came into contact with the drone.
Russian and US aircraft have operated over the Black Sea during Moscow’s war in Ukraine, but this is the first incident of its kind since the conflict began.
Here’s what you need to know.
What happened to the US drone?
The drone – a US-made MQ-9 Reaper – and two Russian Su-27 aircraft were flying over international waters over the Black Sea on Tuesday when one of the Russian jets intentionally flew in front of and dumped fuel on the unmanned aerial vehicle several times, a statement from US European Command said.
The aircraft then hit the drone propeller, prompting the drone’s remote operators to bring it down in international waters. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder added Tuesday that the Russian aircraft flew “in the vicinity” of the drone for 30 to 40 minutes before colliding just after 7 a.m. Central European Time.
The Russians have given a different version of events. A Russian fighter aircraft “did not use airborne weapons or come into contact” with the drone over the Black Sea, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
The incident marks the first known time Russian and US military aircraft have come into direct physical contact since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine just over a year ago and is likely to increase tensions between the two nations.
More pressingly, a race is underway to avoid the drone from falling into the wrong hands. As of Tuesday evening, neither country had recovered the drone, US officials said.
What is the MQ-9 Reaper drone?
The US Air Force primarily uses the Reaper for collecting intel, according to the service’s website, which touts the “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” abilities of the drone.
But when armed, the drone can also be used against “high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive” executive targets, given its weapons systems and its ability to surveil an area for a long period of time.
In other words, the Reaper is both capable of surveilling and striking an enemy. These dual uses have earned the Reaper a nickname in military circles: the “hunter-killer.”
UK defense minister urges Russia to "respect international airspace"
From CNN’s Catherine Nicholls
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace urged Russia on Wednesday to “respect international airspace” after the US said its drone was downed over the Black Sea by a Russian fighter jet.
“The key here is that all parties respect international air space and we urge the Russians to do so," he told reporters.
Wallace, who is currently in Japan for a defense event, added that the US considered the act to be “very unprofessional.”
11:21 a.m. ET, March 15, 2023
Russia will attempt to retrieve US drone wreckage from Black Sea
From CNN’s Katharina Krebs in London
The Russian Security Council Secretary and the former chief of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Nikolai Patrushev said on Wednesday that Russia will try to get the wreckage of an American MQ-9 drone that fell into the Black Sea in order 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,” said Patrushev said on Russian state TV Rossiya 1.
“As for the drone, the Americans keep saying that they are not participating in hostilities. This is yet another confirmation that they are directly involved in these events, in the war,” he added.
Patrushev said Russia already counters such actions.
“We must defend our independence and sovereignty," he said.
Some more context: The US has not recovered the drone that was forced down by a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea Tuesday, according to National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby. He warned that he was "not sure we are going to be able to recover it."
"We did the best we could to minimize any intelligence value that might come from somebody else getting their hands on that drone," he added.
The Kremlin said relations between Russia and the US are at their “lowest point” and in a “deplorable state,” following the drone's downing.