Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has defended the use of a Turkish-supplied armed drone to strike Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, saying the military acted in self-defense and did not violate any agreements.
"When the Ukrainian army feels the need to defend its land, it does so. And it will further act under this principle,” Zelenskiy said, according to comments published on the presidential website on October 29.
The Ukrainian military this week released footage of what it said was a Bayraktar T2B drone destroying a Russian-made howitzer in a separatist-controlled area.
The military said the drone was used “for the first time” to suppress artillery fire that killed a Ukrainian soldier and wounded another.
Moscow accused Ukraine of violating the Minsk agreements meant to put an end to a war that has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014, and said the use of drones could “destabilize the situation” in eastern Ukraine.
Paris and Berlin -- both mediators of the conflict – also criticized the strike.
France said it was "concerned" by the use of the Bayraktar drone and by the "increasingly frequent use of heavy weaponry" that violate a cease-fire.
A German government spokesperson also criticized the use of the drone but noted that “all sides are using drones,” which according to the Minsk agreements is reserved for monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Ukrinform news agency reported.
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv called on both sides in the conflict to respect a cease-fire agreement, while saying that the separatists have also used drones.
“We urge both sides in the Donbas (eastern Ukraine) conflict to abide by the terms of the cease-fire agreement, but let’s be clear — The Russia-led side has repeatedly deployed howitzer artillery and drones against Ukrainian forces, in direct violation of the enhanced measures agreed last year…and recently killed a Ukrainian soldier,” the embassy said in two Twitter posts.
“Official Russian rhetoric suggesting Ukraine is aggravating the situation is not only misleading, it serves to escalate tensions,” it added.
Turkey has sold Ukraine Bayraktar drones and Kyiv plans to buy dozens more to deploy to eastern Ukraine.
In September, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country plans to build a factory to produce the drones in cooperation with the Turkish drone maker, Baykar.
Defense Minister Andriy Taran earlier this month said a joint maintenance and training center for the drones would be established in Ukraine.
The growing defense ties between NATO member Turkey and Ukraine have been a source of tension between Ankara and Moscow, threatening to shift the balance of power on the eastern Ukrainian battlefield in Kyiv’s favor.
The Bayraktar has proven to be one of the best armed drones on the market, having been battle-tested in conflicts in Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, and against Kurdish militants.