News summary of Russia’s war in Ukraine for Thursday, March 16, 2023

Senior Russian defense officials approved the siege of a US drone, according to sources

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley attends a virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at the Pentagon March 15, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds – Pool/Getty Images)

Senior Russian Defense Ministry officials gave the order for Russian warplanes to harass a US drone over the Black Sea this week, according to two US officials familiar with the intelligence.

The connection of the top military commanders to the incident suggests that the fighter pilots were not acting dishonestly when they interfered with the US drone.

However, there is currently no indication that Russia’s highest political leaders — particularly those in the Kremlin, including President Vladimir Putin — knew in advance of the planned attack, one of the US officials said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said late Wednesday that there was likely high-level approval of the harassment.

“Our planes, our drones have been harassed by Russian pilots on an almost constant basis. And to say that that consistent pattern is the consequence of pilots doing this, Russian pilots doing this of their own free will, that just doesn’t ring true,” Price said. to CNN’s Anderson Cooper this Wednesday night.

“The fact that we have seen a pattern by the forces of the Russian Federation suggests to us that there is at least some high-level approval of this type of activity,” he added.

It remains unclear whether or not the military set out to engineer an incident in which the fighters came into physical contact with the drone.

“We know that the interception was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional, and we also know that it was very unprofessional and very unsafe,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said at a news conference on Wednesday. “The actual contact of the Russian fixed-wing fighter with our UAV, the physical contact with those two, is still not certain.”

Milley also tried to play down any immediate deployment of repercussions for Russia, beyond stern public and private warnings against Russian aggression in international airspace.

“We are not seeking armed conflict with Russia, and I think at this point we should investigate this incident and move on from there,” Milley said.