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Ukraine’s military says it has attacked Russian ship off Crimea

Six years on from the day Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty of accession to absorb Crimea in the Russian Federation on March 18, 2020 in Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Pierre Crom | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukraine military intelligence said Tuesday that it used naval drones to attack a Russian ship off the coast of Crimea.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate of Intelligence said special unit Group 13 had damaged the Russian Black Sea Fleet patrol ship, the “Sergey Kotov,” near Russian-occupied Crimea.

“The ‘Kotov’ was damaged by fire in the territorial waters of Ukraine, near the Kerch Strait,” the agency said on Telegram in comments translated by NBC. It said the cost of the sunken ship “is about 65 million dollars.”

“As a result of the strike by Magura V5 naval drones, the Russian ship of project 22160 “Sergei Kotov” suffered damage to the stern, right and left sides,” it added.

Apparently referencing the attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak said on Telegram on Tuesday that “the Russian Black Sea Fleet is a symbol of occupation. It cannot be in the Ukrainian Crimea.”

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the reports.

Ukraine’s operations to attack Russia’s Black Sea Fleet were among its key successes in 2023, with drone and missile attacks on the Crimean port of Sevastopol forcing Russia to withdraw a number of its ships from its main base there.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia accuses Western ambassadors of meddling, threatens to expel German journalists

Russian Foreign Ministry building is seen behind the Army billboard reading “Our Defenders! Thanks Native Ones!” in Moscow on June 15, 2023.

Alexander Nemenov | AFP | Getty Images

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has accused Western ambassadors of meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs and warned that it would not hesitate to expel German journalists from the country if Berlin moved to ban Russian reporters.

Russian news agencies reported several comments by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on Tuesday that highlighted tensions between Russia and Germany after the Russian leak of a purported audio recording in which German military officials were discussing weaponry for Ukraine and possible Russian targets.

Russia said it proved Western countries had plans to strike Russia and said it had “summoned” Germany’s ambassador to Moscow to explain the recording’s content. Berlin denied the diplomat was summoned, saying a meeting was pre-planned. It has launched an investigation into the leak.

Zakharova said Tuesday that Western ambassadors in Moscow were interfering in Russian affairs and questioned their business in Russia.

“They devote all their time – I mean the Western part of the ambassadors, the ambassadors of Western countries, NATO – to only one thing … They are engaged, firstly, in interfering in the internal affairs of our country,” Zakharova said, RIA Novosti reported.

Her comments came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that EU ambassadors had refused to meet him ahead of Russia’s presidential election on March 15-17.

Zakharova also said that Russia would expel German journalists working in the country if Berlin decided to “touch” Russian reporters.

“I want to say right away that they already know about this through diplomatic channels in Berlin – if they touch the Russian correspondents and still bring their plans to the end, then German journalists will leave Russia,” she said.

Zakharova claimed that Germany intended to expel Russian journalists and to not renew their visas or accreditation to work in the country. CNBC was unable to verify the claim and Germany has not publicly expressed that as a possible retaliatory measure after the leak.

— Holly Ellyatt

NATO soldiers take part in a training exercise

Soldiers from various NATO countries on Monday took part in an instalment of NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 military training exercise.

The months-long exercise is the largest since the Cold War and will take place in various countries across Europe and cover domains including sea, air, cyber, land and space, NATO said in a statement in January.

US Army soldiers are taking part in a joint military exercise with forces from several NATO countries on the Vistula.

Sebastian Kahnert | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Soldiers from Spain drive a Leopard tank after crossing the Wistula river as they take part in the NATO DRAGON-24 military exercise in Korzeniewo, northern Poland, March 4, 2024.

Wojtek Radwanski | Afp | Getty Images

Bundeswehr soldiers and British soldiers take part in a joint military exercise with armed forces from several NATO countries on the Vistula.

Sebastian Kahnert | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Soldiers cross the Wistula river with Abrams tanks as they take part in the NATO DRAGON-24 military exercise in Korzeniewo, northern Poland, March 4, 2024.

Wojtek Radwanski | Afp | Getty Images

Russia ramps up the rhetoric over Moldova

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov takes part in the presentation of a collection of archive documents republished to mark the tenth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, in Moscow, Russia, February 15, 2024. 

Shamil Zhumatov | Reuters

The West is seeking to take control of the leadership of Moldova as it did with Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday.

“From the very beginning of the post-Soviet era, the West began to wedge itself into relations between Russia and its neighbors. They are still pursuing the same policy,” Lavrov said, news agency RIA Novosti reported, with the comments translated by Google.

Lavrov’s comments will raise eyebrows among Western observers who fear that Moscow could use a request by pro-Russian separatists in the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova for “protection” as a precursor to trying to annexing the region.

Similarly to Ukraine, Moldova has a pro-Western government and wants to join the European Union, meaning relations with Russia continue to be tense.

“This is also visible in Central Asia , in the Transcaucasus. This is also visible in the European part of the former USSR: Ukraine, Moldova, which they are simply openly preparing to become the successor of Ukraine from the point of view of taking over its entire leadership,” Lavrov said during a speech at the World Youth Festival in Sochi.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded to the request last week by saying that the interests of the residents of Transnistria — calling them “compatriots” — was one of Russia’s priorities and that it would carefully consider the request, the ministry told RIA Novosti.

— Holly Ellyatt

Trains disrupted in Russia’s Samara region after blast rocks rail bridge

Russia’s state railway company said on Monday it had been forced to cancel and re-route some trains in the Samara region after an explosion at a rail bridge, which Ukrainian military intelligence claimed was used by trains carrying ammunition.

An explosion rocked the bridge, which spans the River Chapayevka near the Russian city of Samara, around 530 miles (850 km) southeast of Moscow, early on Monday morning, Russian news agencies reported, citing emergency services.

Located on the Volga river, the Samara region is one of Russia’s heavy industry hubs.

Russian flag flies with the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin in the background in Moscow, Russia, February 27, 2019.

REUTERS | Maxim Shemetov | File Photo

Ukrainian military intelligence issued a statement in which it “confirmed” but did not take responsibility for the blast. It said the rail line was used by Russia to transport military cargo, including ammunition made at a factory nearby.

It forecast the bridge would be out of use for some time.

Reuters could not confirm the Ukrainian assertion. Russia regards the location of its military factories as a state secret. Russia and Ukraine have targeted each other’s infrastructure in the course of the two-year war that Moscow calls a “special military operation”.

Traffic over the bridge was suspended due to what local rail authorities called “illegal interference.” One image posted on social media and verified by Reuters showed some damage to the metal structure of the bridge on one side but the concrete support appeared intact.

Local media in Samara said sappers and Russia’s National Guard were on the scene. Unverified images posted on social media showed what looked like at least one homemade bomb on the scene which had not gone off. Nobody was reported to have been hurt in the incident.

— Reuters

Berlin denies Germany’s ambassador to Moscow was ‘summoned’ to foreign ministry

German Ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, is seen outside of Russian Foreign Ministry building after visiting the Russian Foreign Ministry on March 4, 2024. Russia said he was “summoned” to the ministry. Germany denied this.

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

A German foreign ministry spokesperson said that a meeting between the German ambassador to Moscow and the Russian foreign ministry on Monday had been planned in advance, denying that the official had been abruptly “summoned.”

Speaking to reporters, Wolfgang Büchner replied with a clear “no,” when asked if the ambassador had been summoned, NBC reported. He also described Russian claims that Germany was preparing to strike against Russia as “absurd, malicious propaganda.”

Earlier Monday, Russian news agency Tass said the foreign ministry had summoned German Ambassador Alexander Lambsdorff after the leak of an audio recording of German military officials discussing Ukraine and the possible targeting of Russian infrastructure in occupied Ukraine.

Lambsdorff was pictured leaving the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow on Monday.

— Holly Ellyatt

Kremlin says German military call verifies Western ‘plans for strikes on Russian territory’

The Kremlin said a call between German military officers that was leaked by Russian media last Friday showed that the German military department “is substantively and specifically discussing plans for strikes on Russian territory,” Russia Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday.

“In itself [the military’s conversation] suggests that within the Bundeswehr plans to launch strikes on the territory of the Russian Federation are being substantively and specifically discussed … Everything here is more than obvious,” Peskov said, news agency Tass reported.

Russian media leaked a 38-minute recording last Friday in which senior German officers discussed the possibility of sending long-range missiles to Ukraine, as well as the possibility of attacking the Crimean Bridge that links the Russian mainland with annexed peninsula Crimea. 

In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state owned agency Sputnik, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Chad’s Transitional President Brice Mahamat Idriss Deby (both not pictured) at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 24, 2024.

Mikhail Metzel | AFP | Getty Images

The Kremlin spokesperson said the audio recording raised the question of whether the plans the German military officials had discussed were part of German state policy. In any case, Peskov claimed that the recording proved “the direct involvement of Western countries in the conflict around Ukraine.”

Peskov said Russia would assess the results of the German investigation into the leak that was announced by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

— Holly Ellyatt

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