The Pentagon has denied a claim from the Russian Ministry of Defence saying it is “highly likely” that the United States used some of its surveillance drones flying over the Black Sea to help the Ukrainian Navy attack its vessels.
“On the evening of February 25, during the evacuation of 82 Ukrainian servicemen who voluntarily laid down their arms from Zmeiny [Zmiiny] Island, 16 boats of the Ukrainian Navy, using the ‘swarm tactics,’ tried to attack the ships of the Black Sea Fleet,” Russian defense ministry spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Saturday. “During the attack by Ukrainian boats over the provocation area, US strategic unmanned aerial vehicles RQ-4 ‘Global Hawk’ and MQ-9A ‘Reaper’ were overhead.”
“It is highly likely that it was American UAVs that directed Ukrainian boats at the ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet,” Konashenkov said.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby denied the claims:
“Russian claims that the United States was involved in any way with Ukrainian naval operations near the Zmiiny Island are false. We did not provide ISR or any other support. Chalk this up to just one more lie by the Russian Ministry of Defense,” he told CNN.
Konashenkov also said that six boats of the Ukrainian navy were destroyed but that none of the 82 Ukrainian servicemen from the island, also known as Snake Island, were injured.
All 13 Ukrainian defenders were killed in a Russian bombardment on the island Thursday, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to a purported, widely shared audio exchange, as the Russians approached the island, the Russian officer said, “This is a military warship. This is a Russian military warship. I suggest you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”
A Ukrainian soldier responded, “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”
Those were the final known words heard from the island.