March 16 (Reuters) – A Russian-installed commander said on Thursday there were no signs Ukraine was withdrawing troops from Ukraine’s eastern city of Bakhmut, a day after top Russian and U.S. officials held rare phone conversations over a U.S. drone that crashed in the Black Sea
* The situation for Russian forces trying to capture the ruined city is “difficult”, because there are no signs Kyiv is ready to order a withdrawal of its troops, the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine’s Donetsk region said.
* Ukraine’s top military command favours defending eastern Ukraine including the besieged city of Bakhmut and inflicting maximum losses on the enemy, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Wednesday.
* The head of private militia Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has said his forces are in control of practically half the city and only one exit road remains available to Ukraine.
U.S. DRONE INCIDENT
* Washington’s top general said the crash of a U.S. surveillance drone after being intercepted by Russian jets showed Moscow’s increasingly aggressive behaviour while Russia warned Washington that flying drones near Crimea risked escalation.
* Russia said that operating U.S. drone flights near Crimea was provocative and could lead to an escalation. The top U.S. general said there was a pattern of increasing Russian aggression.* The U.S. surveillance drone probably broke apart and would be difficult to recover given the depth of the water in the area, the top U.S. general said.
* Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States was “ignoring” the fact that Russia had established air space restrictions in the area.
* The U.S. military surveillance drone’s crash into the Black Sea is being investigated, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, declining to speak on the intent or the motivation behind the incident.* The MQ-9 “Reaper” unmanned aerial vehicle can loiter at up to 50,000 feet for more than 27 hours, gathering intelligence with sophisticated cameras, sensors and radars.
* Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to soon visit Putin and, according to media, hold a virtual meeting with Zelenskiy weeks after China proposed a 12-point plan for peace in Ukraine.
* Turkey’s parliament is “highly likely” to ratify Finland’s NATO accession bid before mid-April, two Turkish officials told Reuters. Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the defence pact after Russia invaded Ukraine but faced objections from Turkey.
* Turkey will continue discussions to extend a deal that allows grain shipments from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports for 120 rather than 60 days, Turkey said. Berlin said it should continue indefinitely.
* Ukraine’s grain exports for the 2022/23 season stood at 34.7 million tonnes as of March 15, hit by a smaller harvest and logistical difficulties caused by Russia’s invasion.
Photo: General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine