Russia warns Ukraine over use of Turkish drones in conflict

A Bayraktar drone on display during Ukraine's Independence Day military parade rehearsal in central Kiev on Aug 18, 2021.
A Bayraktar drone is seen during Ukraine's Independence Day military parade rehearsal in central Kiev on Aug 18, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - The Kremlin has warned that the use of Turkish-made drones could further aggravate the conflict in Ukraine, after Kiev released footage of its military employing the weapons against pro-Russian separatists for the first time.

Ukraine has been fighting a trench conflict in the east of the ex-Soviet country against fighters backed by Russia since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula, sparking sanctions from the West.

Ukraine's defence ministry late on Tuesday (Oct 26) published video of what it said was its first use of the Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar drone in the conflict, targeting artillery.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday: "We really have special and good relations with Turkey but this case, unfortunately, confirms our concerns that the deliveries of such armaments to the Ukrainian military may potentially destabilise the situation at the engagement line."

The introduction of the drone is a potential game changer in the years-long conflict, after Turkish drones were used by Azerbaijan last year to overpower Armenia's army in Nagorno-Karabakh - another frozen post-Soviet conflict.

Drone maker Baykar's flagship model has also been used in conflicts in Syria and Libya.

Ukraine said earlier this month it planned to build a factory to produce the drones, which Kiev had previously purchased.

Turkey's sale of the unmanned aircraft to Kiev complicates its ties with Russia, which has thrown its political weight behind the Ukraine separatists.

Moscow and Ankara cooperate closely on defence, including on conflicts in Syria and Libya, and Turkey has purchased weapons from Russia, including the S-400 missile defence systems.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed Mr Peskov's concerns, saying Russia was investigating reports that Ukraine used the Turkish drone.

"This should give pause to those who give airtime to Ukraine's stubborn demands it should be admitted to Nato right away," he said.

International monitors in eastern Ukraine, who use unmanned aircraft to report ceasefire violations, have recently said their drones were being jammed.

The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives and Ukraine's military said on Wednesday that one of its soldiers was killed - the second Ukrainian combat loss in two days.

Kiev and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to bolster the separatists - claims that Moscow denies.