This was CNBC’s live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on March 15, 2023. See here for the latest updates.
The fallout from an encounter between a U.S. drone and Russian fighter jets on Tuesday continues to be monitored closely just as another incident between NATO countries and Russia was recorded, with British and German fighter jets scrambled to escort a Russian aircraft away from Estonian airspace.
In comments released in the early hours of Wednesday, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov appeared to blame the U.S. for the downing of the U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday that the U.S. military blamed on “reckless,” “unprofessional” and “unsafe” behavior by the Russian fighter jets.
Antonov said in comments posted on the Russian embassy’s Telegram account that he had told U.S. officials, after being summoned by the U.S. State Department, that Russia’s position on the incident was that the U.S. drone had been “moving deliberately and provocatively towards the Russian territory with its transponders turned off.”
He then claimed that it had “violated the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation,” the name Russia gives its invasion of Ukraine, and denied that the Russian jets had collided with the drone.
In the latest incident highlighting tensions between NATO and Russia, British and German fighter jets were also scrambled later Tuesday to intercept a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace.
Five ships carrying 183,543 metric tons of grain and other agricultural products left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk and Odesa ports.
The ships are destined for China, Spain and United Arab Emirates and are carrying corn, barley and wheat.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered last July between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, eased Russia’s naval blockade and saw three key Ukrainian ports reopen.
So far, more than 700 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports.
— Amanda Macias
More than 8.1 million Ukrainians have become refugees and moved to neighboring countries since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February of last year, the U.N. Refugee Agency estimates.
Nearly 5 million of those people have applied for temporary resident status in neighboring Western European countries, according to data collected by the agency.
“The escalation of conflict in Ukraine has caused civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, forcing people to flee their homes seeking safety, protection and assistance,” the U.N. Refugee Agency wrote.
— Amanda Macias
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev held talks Wednesday with his visiting Romanian counterpart as the two neighbors and NATO allies signed a cooperation agreement to boost bilateral ties amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Radev met with Klaus Iohannis in the capital, Sofia, where the two leaders discussed topics including regional security, energy, and economy. They also discussed their countries’ bids to one day join Europe’s ID-check-free travel zone, the so-called Schengen area.
In a news conference afterwards, Radev highlighted Tuesday’s U.S. drone collision with a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea, saying “we must do everything possible” to prevent events from escalating into a global conflict.
“In addition to supporting Ukraine,” he said, “we must work to end this conflict as quickly as possible.”
“The profound geostrategic changes on our borders, with consequences in the extended Black Sea region … prompt us to realize the need for even closer cooperation,” he said.
Iohannis said that he discussed with Radev the EU’s enlargement policy; the expansion of transport infrastructure; and the need to support embattled Moldova, which is not a member of the EU or NATO and has been heavily affected by the war in Ukraine.
— Associated Press
The U.K. Supreme Court ruled that Ukraine can go to trial to avoid repaying $3 billion in loans it said it took under pressure from Russia in 2013 to prevent it from trying to join the European Union.
The court rejected a bid by a British company acting on Russia’s behalf to order Ukraine to repay the loans without facing a trial. Ukraine said it borrowed the money while facing the threat of military force and massive illegal economic and political pressure nearly a decade before Russia invaded its neighbor.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that the ruling was “another decisive victory against the aggressor.”
“The Court has ruled that Ukraine’s defense based on Russia’s threats of aggression will have a full public trial,” he tweeted. “Justice will be ours.”
The case was argued in November 2021, and the court was not asked to consider Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three months later.
Ukrainian authorities allege that the corrupt government of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych borrowed the money from Moscow under pressure before he was ousted in protests in February 2014, shortly before Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
After the 2014 Ukraine revolution, the country’s new government refused to repay the debt in December 2015, saying Moscow wouldn’t agree to terms already accepted by other international creditors.
— Associated Press
An Ukrainian serviceman attaches a hand grenade to use in an attack, near Bachmut, in the region of Donbas.
— Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images
Russia’s Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said that Moscow will “no longer allow anyone to break into its waters,” according to Russian state media agency TASS.
Antonov’s comments come on the heels of a Russian fighter jet downing a U.S. drone operating over the Black Sea.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday that its two fighter aircraft did not come in contact with the U.S. drone. In a statement posted on its official Telegram channel, the ministry said the drone was flying with its transponders off near the Crimean Peninsula when it went into “unguided flight” and then fell into the water.
— Amanda Macias
Kremlin critics were cheered this week when a Western documentary about jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny won an Oscar, but his political movement is in turmoil and some Ukrainian politicians say the award is undeserved.
Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile domestic critic, is serving 11-1/2 years in jail in Russia after being convicted of fraud in two cases he and the West say were trumped up to silence him, and his anti-corruption organization has been banned as extremist.
His supporters cast him as a Russian version of Nelson Mandela who survived an assassination attempt and will one day be freed from unjust imprisonment to lead Russia. The lawyer-turned-activist remains a fierce Kremlin critic, releasing regular statements via his lawyers from behind bars.
But his Anti-Corruption Foundation, which now operates outside Russia, is reeling after his Chief of Staff Leonid Volkov admitted he had — without his colleagues’ knowledge — lobbied the European Union to lift sanctions on Mikhail Fridman, one of Russia’s richest men.
Volkov apologized for what he said was “a big political mistake” and said he was taking a break from his role as chairman of the ACF.
Yet some fellow opposition members were furious, saying the ACF should be trying to hasten Putin’s political demise rather than helping wealthy businessmen.
Vladimir Milov, a Navalny ally and a former deputy energy minister, said some in the opposition had shown themselves to be “super-naive” in seeking the lifting of sanctions on Fridman, whom he described as Russia’s “champion corporate raider”.
“It inflicts colossal damage on the image of the Russian opposition,” said Milov. “After this it will be necessary to restore the reputation of the Russian opposition in the West.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad offered Russian President Vladimir Putin his support in the conflict in Ukraine.
In a televised meeting with Putin in the Kremlin, Assad said Russia was fighting neo-Nazis and “old Nazis” in Ukraine, according to a Russian translation.
Without offering evidence, Assad said the West had taken in “old Nazis”, and was now giving them support.
Kyiv and the West say Russian accusations that Ukraine has become a hotbed of Nazism and “Russophobia” are a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine.
Russia’s military support for Assad helped him to turn the tide in a ruinous civil war that began in 2011 as a pro-democracy movement.
Russia will try to retrieve the remnants of the U.S. military drone that crashed into the Black Sea on Tuesday, Moscow’s Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said.
“I don’t know if we will be able to get it or not,” Patrushev said in an interview with the Rossiya-1 TV channel, according to state news agency TASS, answering the question of whether Russia has the opportunity to find and study the remains of the fallen unmanned aerial vehicle.
“I hope, of course, for success,” he added, according to a translation of the comments by NBC News.
Patrushev’s comments come after a high-level dispute between the U.S. and Russia over an encounter between a surveillance drone and Russian fighter jets Tuesday.
The U.S. military said that the Russian jets had harassed the U.S. MQ-9 surveillance drone before clipping its propeller as it flew in international air space over the Black Sea. The actions of the Russian fighter jets, which the U.S. branded “reckless” and “unprofessional,” forced the U.S. to bring down the drone.
Russia denied the U.S. version of events, blaming the U.S. for “sharp manoeuvring,” while Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. accused the drone of “moving deliberately and provocatively towards the Russian territory” in a bid to collect intelligence for use in the Ukraine war.
Patrushev claimed that the drone incident “was yet another confirmation” that the U.S. is “participating in hostilities” against Russia.
White House spokesman John Kirby said the drone had not been recovered and may never be recovered, given the depth of the Black Sea where it went down.
“It has not been recovered,” Kirby said. “And I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to recover it. Where it fell into the Black Sea — very, very deep water. So we’re still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort. There may not be.”
— Holly Ellyatt
Ukraine has invited Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential candidate, to visit the country after he downplayed Russia’s war on Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” and said the conflict should not be a top priority for the U.S.
Ukrainian foreign ministry official Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter that “we are sure that as a former military officer deployed to a combat zone, Governor Ron DeSantis knows the difference between a ‘dispute’ and war,” he said on Twitter.
“We invite him to visit Ukraine to get a deeper understanding of Russia’s full-scale invasion and the threats it poses to U.S. interests,” he added.
Nikolenko’s comments come after DeSantis appeared to dismiss the significance of the war in Ukraine, telling Fox News that “while the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness with our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”
When DeSantis was a member of Congress, he voted for several defense spending bills that provided U.S. military and intelligence support for Ukraine after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
— Holly Ellyatt, Amanda Macias
The head of Russia’s mercenary force — the private military company known as the Wagner Group — fighting for control of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine said Wednesday that Russian forces have taken control of a village to the north of the city.
“Assault detachments are expanding the encirclement of Bakhmut. This morning, the settlement of Zaliznyanskoe [known in Ukraine as Zaliznyans’ke] was taken by assault detachments of PMC Wagner,” Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio comment on his business’ Telegram channel that was reported by Russian state news agency TASS.
CNBC was unable to verify the claims.
Bakhmut remains the hottest spot in the war in Ukraine with intense battles between Ukrainian forces trying to defend the city against regular Russian units and mercenary forces within the Wagner Group. Both sides are claiming they’re inflicting significant personnel losses on the other on a daily basis.
Russian forces claim to control all paved roads into the city and analysts say they surround the city to the north, east and south. Ukraine has vowed to defend Bakhmut to the last, despite doubts over the merits of that strategy.
Kyiv is seen to want Russia to expend its manpower on fighting in Bakhmut while Ukraine awaits more weaponry from its international allies and can launch a renewed counteroffensive in spring.
— Holly Ellyatt
U.S. officials told Russia’s ambassador to the United States that Moscow has to be more careful when flying in international airspace, White House spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday, following the crash of a U.S. military drone into the Black Sea after being intercepted by Russian fighter jets.
The State Department on Tuesday summoned Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, to express U.S. concerns over the incident, the first since the war in Ukraine began more than a year ago.
“The message that we delivered to the Russian ambassador is that they need to be more careful in flying in international airspace near U.S. assets that are, again, flying in completely legal ways, conducting missions in support of our national security interests,” Kirby said in an interview with CNN.
“They’re the ones that need to be more careful.”
Kirby also said the MQ-9 surveillance drone has not been recovered and may never be recovered, given the depth of the Black Sea where it went down.
“It has not been recovered,” Kirby said. “And I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to recover it. Where it fell into the Black Sea – very, very deep water. So we’re still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort. There may not be.”
The Pentagon said one of the Russian Su-27 jets struck the propeller of the drone on Tuesday, making it inoperable, while Russia’s defense ministry blamed “sharp maneuvering” of the unmanned drone for the crash and said that its jets did not make contact.
Antonov, the Russian ambassador, said the drone “deliberately and provocatively was moving towards Russian territory with transponders turned off.”
A Russian missile attack on the city of Kharmiv in northeast Ukraine has damaged a school building and infrastructure, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday.
“A shell landed near the school, the building was partially damaged, and the windows were broken. There were no casualties,” Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian President’s Office, said on Telegram.
Separately, Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, said on Telegram today that the city’s civilian infrastructure had been targeted in a strike, without providing further details of what location had been struck.
“The enemy once again struck the city’s civilian infrastructure. According to preliminary data, there were no casualties. Emergency services work at the scene. The destruction scale is being clarified,” he said on Telegram. CNBC wasn’t able to verify the details in the posts.
Russia says it does not target civilian infrastructure but there have been repeated strikes on energy infrastructure, civil infrastructure like schools, hospitals and theaters as well as residential buildings.
— Holly Ellyatt
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that relations with the United States were in a “lamentable state” and at their lowest level, after Washington accused Russia of downing one of its reconnaissance drones over the Black Sea.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that there had been no high-level contact with Washington over the incident, but said Russia would never refuse to engage in constructive dialogue.
The U.S. military said on Tuesday that a Russian fighter plane had clipped the propeller of one of its spy drones as it flew over the Black Sea in international air space, causing it to fall into the water.
Russia denied this, suggesting it had crashed due to “sharp manoeuvring”.
A Russian official in Donetsk has reportedly claimed “scattered” Ukrainian units are trying to retreat from Bakhmut, a beseiged city in eastern Ukraine that Russia calls “Artemovsk.”
“Periodically, some scattered units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine try to retreat from Artemovsk . Due to the fact that the roads are controlled, they try to retreat along country roads or fields, through forest plantations,” Jan Gagin, an advisor to the acting head of the pro-Russian, separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” told the Rossiya 24 TV channel, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.
Gagin said muddy conditions mean the Ukrainian military has to retreat on foot. He claimed they were suffering “serious losses in manpower and equipment.”
CNBC was unable to verify the comments and it’s not the first time Russian officials have claimed Ukrainian units are retreating from Bakhmut.
On Monday, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces Colonel-General Syrskyi said the situation on the front line around Bakhmut “remains difficult” but Ukraine has vowed to fight on, sending reinforcements into the city.
Russian and Ukrainian forces have been fighting to defend and control Bakhmut for seven months. Russian units are now said to practically surround the city to the north, east and south.
Russia views Bakhmut as a strategic goal from which it could launch further assaults to capture other cities in Donetsk. One of its key goals in Ukraine is to capture and control the entire Donbas region.
Ukraine’s military said in an update Wednesday that its forces had repelled over 90 attacks by Russian forces around Bakhmut and surrounding settlements.
— Holly Ellyatt
Russian public officials and workers could face more travel restrictions as the war with Ukraine continues, Britain’s Ministry of Defense noted Wednesday.
Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials have been subject to increasingly severe foreign travel restrictions, the ministry noted in an intelligence update on Twitter, with some likely to have been forced to forfeit their passports to Russia’s Federal Security Service.
“Employees closer to the centre of power face more severe restrictions,” the ministry said, with Kremlin officials banned from all international leisure travel. These kinds of measures had their origin in the Soviet era but travel restrictions were tightened most recently after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“The measures are likely designed to prevent the flight or defection of increasingly disaffected officials,” the U.K. said.
“There is a realistic possibility that as the securitisation of the Russian state continues, travel restrictions will be tightened for an increasing number of public sector employees,” it added.
— Holly Ellyatt
British and German fighter jets were scrambled Tuesday to intercept a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace.
Marking the first joint NATO interception of its kind, the British and German air forces deployed Typhoon jets to intercept a Russian IL-78 Midas air-to-air refueling aircraft after it failed to communicate with Estonian air traffic control.
Following a successful escort, the British Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the pair of Typhoons were then redirected to intercept a Russian AN-148 airliner, also passing Estonian airspace.
The British Ministry of Defense noted that the mission by the NATO allies was standard procedure, stating that “the interception is however a routine NATO mission for the Typhoons which provides reassurance that the U.K. and Germany together with other NATO allies stand with their Estonian ally at this time of tension.”
The U.K. is preparing take over from Germany to lead the NATO mission in Estonia and this latest incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between the Western military alliance and Russia. On Tuesday, a U.S. drone was downed over the Black Sea after an encounter with two Russian fighter jets.
— Holly Ellyatt
Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov appeared to blame the U.S. for the downing of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday that the U.S. military blamed on the “reckless” and “unsafe” behavior of Russian fighter jets.
Antonov said in comments posted on the Russian embassy’s Telegram account that he had told U.S. officials that Russia’s position on the incident was that the U.S. drone had been “moving deliberately and provocatively towards the Russian territory with its transponders turned off” and it had then, he claimed, “violated the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation,” which is how Russia describes its invasion of Ukraine.
Antonov, who was summoned by the U.S. State Department on Tuesday to explain the incident, insisted that the Russian fighter jets did not come into contact with the drone and said “the unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders are cause for concern.”
“We are well aware of the missions such reconnaissance and strike drones are used for,” he said, claiming that they are used to “gather intelligence which is later used by the Kiev regime to attack our armed forces and territory.”
The ambassador called for the U.S. to “stop making sorties near the Russian borders” and said Moscow perceives “any actions involving the use of American weapons and military equipment as openly hostile” but then added that Russia “does not seek confrontation” with the U.S.
The U.S. military said Tuesday that two Russian fighter jets had intercepted the drone while it was in international airspace, harassing it in a possible bid to damage the drone before one of the jets clipped the unmanned aerial vehicle, causing it to crash.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War say the incident is unlikely to cause an escalation between the countries, however, noting Tuesday that “Russian forces have used coercive signaling against US and allied flights and naval vessels for decades in multiple theaters without triggering conflict.”
— Holly Ellyatt
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday dismissed as “sheer nonsense” allegations that Ukrainians could be behind the blasts that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea last year, and again pointed the finger at the U.S.
Putin spoke after The New York Times, The Washington Post and German media published stories last week citing unidentified U.S. and other officials as saying there was evidence Ukraine, or at least Ukrainians, may have been responsible. The Ukrainian government has denied involvement.
Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper and German public broadcasters ARD and SWR reported that investigators believed five men and a woman used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland to carry out the attack. German federal prosecutors confirmed that a boat was searched in January but have not confirmed the reported findings.
Putin rejected the notion as “sheer nonsense.”
“Such an explosion, so powerful and at such depth, could only be conducted by experts backed by the entire potential of a state that has relevant technologies,” he said in televised remarks.
— Associated Press
Russia’s Ministry of Defense said its two fighter aircraft did not come in contact with a U.S. drone operating over the Black Sea.
Russia said in a statement posted on its official Telegram channel that the drone was flying with its transponders off near the Crimean Peninsula when it went into “unguided flight” and then fell into the water.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was in the process of summoning Russia’s Ambassador Anatoly Antonov to discuss the “brazen violation of international law.”
“We have engaged at high levels with our allies and partners in the first instance, to brief them on this incident and to let them know what we know,” Price said on a conference call with reporters.
“We are engaging directly with the Russians again at senior levels to convey our strong objections to this unsafe unprofessional intercept, which caused the downing of the unmanned U.S. aircraft,” he added.
— Amanda Macias
A Russian fighter jet downed a U.S. drone operating over the Black Sea on Tuesday, U.S. European Command said in a statement.
“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa.
Prior to the collision, two Russian aircraft harassed the drone, he said.
“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” the statement added.
The MQ-9 Reaper system is designed to collect intelligence and carry out reconnaissance missions and is manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
The remotely piloted system can carry a combination of Hellfire missiles, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions.
— Amanda Macias
Poland could give Ukraine MiG-29 fighter jets in the coming four to six weeks, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, suggesting that Kyiv’s allies were moving closer to an agreement on the next step in their military support for the country.
Poland has said it would be prepared to send Soviet-designed MiG-29 jets to Ukraine as part of a coalition of countries. However, with Kyiv’s allies taking a cautious approach to the transfer of fighter jets it has been unclear how long such a process might take.
“That could happen in the coming 4-6 weeks,” Morawiecki told a news conference when asked how long it could be before Warsaw supplies the aircraft.
Last Thursday Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said his Polish counterpart had told him at a European Union meeting on the previous day that Warsaw would agree to a joint process to hand over MiG-29 jets to Ukraine.
Nad said the time had come also for Slovakia to make a decision on whether or not to send jets to Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated claims that Russia is involved in a battle for the existence of its own state.
“So for us this is not a geopolitical task, but a task of the survival of Russian statehood, creating conditions for the future development of the country and our children,” Putin said, adding that Russia was also fighting in Ukraine for pro-Russian communities in eastern Ukraine, according to comments reported by Reuters.
Speaking during a visit to an aviation factory in the far eastern region of Buryatia, Putin said Russia had tried to mend relations with Ukraine for decades but that “the situation changed” after a pro-Western Ukrainian uprising in 2014, which saw a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president ousted in an event Russia describes as a “coup d’état.”
Putin has frequently claimed that the war in Ukraine was caused by the West trying to meddle in Ukraine and damage Russia. Ukraine and its allies say Russia wants to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence and to install a pro-Moscow regime in Kyiv.
Asked whether he was concerned last year that the Russian economy could collapse under international sanctions, Putin said he had worried, but he added that Russia’s “economic sovereignty” now was a major result of last year. The foundations of Russia’s economic stability were “stronger than anyone thought,” he added.
Putin said Russia’s financial system had got stronger and that Western companies that left Russia last year thought the economy would collapse “but it didn’t.”
— Holly Ellyatt
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy insisted his forces could win the battle for Bakhmut in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, as doubts continue over whether Ukraine should spend more manpower and resources on defending the besieged city.
“As always, today I was in touch with our commanders, with intelligence [officers]. It is very hard in the east – very painful,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.
“We must destroy the enemy’s military power – and we will destroy it,” he said, adding that the defense of settlements big and small, such as Bilohorivka and Avdiivka or Bakhmut and Vuhledar, could determine what Ukraine’s future looks like.
On Tuesday morning, Ukraine’s military said in a Facebook post that Russian offensives continued around Bakhmut and surrounding towns “despite significant losses.” It added that its forces had repelled more than 100 attacks in the Donetsk region but noted that Russian forces were relentless in their pursuit to capture Bakhmut.
There are doubts over the merits of defending Bakhmut, a city said to be almost completely surrounded by Russian forces and mercenary units.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Ukraine was suffering losses among reserves it intended to use in planned counteroffensives against Russian forces, expected in late spring, and noted in an interview reported by Reuters that, “we could lose here everything we wanted to use for those counter-offensives.”
— Holly Ellyatt
Russian plane collides with U.S. drone; Poland may send fighter jets to Ukraine