These drones are not on a peaceful mission to ensure the safety of shipping in international waters, says Russia as Ukraine-Russia conflict enters its 389th day.

This photo taken from video released on Thursday, March 16, 2023, shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of the MQ-9 Reaper US Air Force UCAV drone.
This photo taken from video released on Thursday, March 16, 2023, shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of the MQ-9 Reaper US Air Force UCAV drone. (AP)

Sunday, March 19, 2023

US drone flights over the Black Sea are a sign of direct US involvement in conflict with Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying. 

Last week, a US drone crashed into the sea after being intercepted by Russian Su-27 fighter planes in the first known direct military encounter between the two sides since Russia launched its war in Ukraine last year. 

"It is quite obvious what these drones are doing, and their mission is not at all a peaceful mission to ensure the safety of shipping in international waters," Interfax news agency quoted Peskov as saying in a TV interview. 

"And in fact, we are talking about the direct involvement of the operators of these drones in the conflict, and against us." 

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1609 GMT — Three killed as Russia shells Zaporizhzhia 

At least three civilians killed and two wounded in Russian shelling of a residential building in the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia, regional officials have said. 

The region's military administration said Russian troops fired grad rockets at the small village of Kamyanske which had a pre-war population of some 2,600 people. 

The authorities warned residents in the region that the danger of shelling was constant near the front lines and urged them to evacuate.

1123 GMT — Putin makes surprise visit to Mariupol 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a surprise visit to the city of Mariupol in Ukraine's Donetsk region, which has been under Russian control since last May. 

"The head of state inspected several objects of the city, and also talked with local residents," said a statement by the Kremlin. 

Putin flew to Mariupol by helicopter, it noted, adding that he later drive a car in the city accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who reported "on the progress of construction and restoration work in the city and its surroundings." 

0331 GMT — Putin meets top command of Russia's military operation in Ukraine 

Russia's President Putin has met with the top command of his military operation in Ukraine, state media reported, including Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov who is in charge of Moscow's offensive in Ukraine.

The meeting took place at the Rostov-on-Don command post in southern Russia, TASS news agency reported. 

2335 GMT — Up to 1,200 recruits join every day – Wagner head

Evgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, has claimed that up to 1,200 new recruits join its ranks every day.

"The result that we are having now, we did not expect it. We have days when we recruit up to 1,200 people a day. An average number fluctuates from 500 to 800," he said on Telegram.

Prigozhin said he expects that by mid-May the number of fighters will increase by 30,000.

According to him, newcomers have better physical form than people the group was hiring previously, and pass test for physical training in the first attempt.

2300 GMT — Russia demands lifting of Western sanctions for Ukraine peace

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has said annulment of sanctions and lawsuits in international courts against Russia is one of the conditions for settlement in Ukraine.

In a statement on the ministry's website, Zakharova said to achieve "sustainable peace," it is necessary to stop supplying arms and sending mercenaries to Ukraine.

Ukraine also has to return to a neutral, non-nuclear, non-bloc status, denazified and demilitarised, all threats emanating from its territory have to be removed, and rights of Russian-speaking population should be guaranteed, she added.

"New territorial reality ... should be internationally recognised. The annulment of all illegal sanctions and lawsuits against Russia in international courts should become an integral part," she stressed.

2107 GMT — Ukrainian army says still able to resupply troops in Bakhmut

Ukrainian forces outside the battered eastern city of Bakhmut are managing to keep Russian units at bay so ammunition, food, equipment and medicines can be delivered to defenders, the army has said.

"We are managing to deliver the necessary munitions, food, gear and medicines to Bakhmut. We are also managing to take our wounded out of the city," military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty told the ICTV television channel.

He said Ukrainian scouts and counter-artillery fire were helping keep open some roads into the city.

As well as inflicting heavy casualties, pro-Kiev forces shot down two Russian drones and destroyed five enemy ammunition depots on Friday, he added.

For our live updates from Saturday (March 18), click here.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies