Putin says US support of Ukraine drone use in conflict zone risks escalation

Ukraine recently used a Turkish-made drone for the first time in its conflict with Russian-backed separatists. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (BLOOMBERG) - Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the US of supporting drone use in the Ukraine conflict zone and said its naval drills with Nato in the Black Sea risk further escalating tensions in the region.

Ukraine recently used a Turkish-made drone for the first time in the seven-year-long conflict with Russian-backed separatists in retaliation for a deadly strike.

The war, which erupted after Russia annexed Crimea and supported unrest in eastern Ukraine, has killed more than 13,000 people.

"Now the current president cheerfully reports they're using Bayraktars, that is, unmanned aerial vehicles," Mr Putin said in an interview on state television yesterday (Sat).

He said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's use of drones violates the Minsk accords and other agreements banning aviation in the conflict zone but that in response, "Europe said something incomprehensible and the US even supported it and officials in Ukraine openly say that they used them and will use them further."

Ukraine has denied violating peace treaties, saying the drones were used defensively.

Drills being carried out by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the US in the Black Sea are "a serious challenge to us, Mr Putin said.

Last month, he said Nato is carrying out a military expansion in Ukraine that poses a threat to Russia.

At the same time, he said Russia will seek to avoid clashes, and the Defence Ministry is limiting its response to escorting Nato planes and ships.

"The US and its NATO allies are conducting unplanned, I want to stress, unplanned drills in the Black Sea," Mr Putin said.

"I must say that our Defence Ministry also proposed to conduct unplanned dills in the same body of water, but I think this doesn't make sense and there is no need to escalate the situation there."

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