Russia said for the first time that a strategic US surveillance drone was flying over an island seized by Moscow in the Black Sea as Ukrainians tried to retake it, on Monday (20).
While the intense presence of NATO (western military alliance) spy artifacts in the region in the Ukraine War is nothing new, the Russians had never claimed to have identified one of them during an attack.
Without making the accusation directly, as it could lead to an escalation undesired by both sides on World War III grounds, the disclosure signals what all military analysts know: that the US has been assisting Kiev with intelligence.
The drone in question was a Global Hawk, identified by the Russians as the Air Force-operated version, the RQ-4, capable of flying for more than 34 hours at high altitudes, monitoring an area the size of the South Korea to each mission.
The action, according to Russia and which Ukraine has not denied, took place on Monday. Moscow says there was a barrage of missiles and Turkish drone strikes from Kiev on the island, the takeover of which was the scene of the famous and somewhat mythologized scene in which Ukrainian soldiers from a garrison radioed insults at the crew of the battleship Moskva at the beginning of the war. war.
The Moskva would be sunk weeks later, in the biggest Russian naval loss since World War II — either by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles, or by a fire on board, as the Russians say. The island has been the scene of other attacks, and last week a Russian tugboat was sunk near it.
According to the Defense Ministry in Moscow, 13 Ukrainian drones, 4 Totchka-U missiles and 21 rockets launched from the coast by Uragan systems were shot down. Soon after, Ukraine retaliated by attacking two gas prospecting platforms near Crimea, a peninsula annexed without conflict by Vladimir Putin in 2014.
The Global Hawk was not alone: Aircraft tracking sites recorded at least five other American and British spy planes in the Black Sea region on Monday. But its presence over the conflict region and, above all, the dry disclosure by the Russians, drew attention.
In the early months of the war, members of the US intelligence community disclosed to journalists their role in providing guidance on Kiev attacks, including those that destroyed Moskva or resulted in the deaths of Russian generals. This obviously led to increased tension with Moscow, and President Joe Biden himself ordered them to stop bragging.
The Black Sea saw action again this Tuesday (21). In retaliation for the attack on the platforms, Russia dispatched ships from its fleet in Sevastopol to fire cruise missiles at the Odessa region, Ukraine’s biggest port. An airport and hangars with Turkish TB2 Bayraktar drones were destroyed.
It is, however, a secondary theater of war. The focus remains on Donbass, in the east of the country, where the Russians have taken another city in preparation for what Kiev says is a major attack to try to retake the entire province of Lugansk by next Sunday (26).
Since April 18, Moscow has redirected its efforts eastward after failing to overthrow Volodymyr Zelensky’s government with a multi-pronged but poorly coordinated attack that began on February 24. Now, he is close to finalizing the conquest of the province that, with Donetsk, makes up the so-called Donbass.
If it takes Lugansk, Kiev’s remaining territory in Donetsk will be the next target. What is not known is whether a success there would make Putin feel satisfied, given that taking Donbass is his stated objective at this point in the war.
Putin already dominates southern Ukraine as far as Odessa, having established a land link between Donbass and Crimea. With that, he amputated about 20% of Ukrainian territory. It remains to be seen whether he will attempt to take the remaining Black Sea coast if he succeeds in the east.