Kremlin says Turkish drones risk destabilizing situation in east Ukraine

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The Kremlin said on Wednesday that its fears about Turkey’s decision to sell strike drones to Ukraine were being realized and that the Turkish drones risked destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was commenting on media reports that Ukrainian government forces had successfully deployed a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone to strike a position in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

The Ukrainian military announced on Tuesday that Ukraine destroyed the artillery of pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east in its first combat deployment of a Turkish drone.

Footage published on the Ukrainian armed forces’ Facebook page showed the Bayraktar TB2k targeting and shooting a Soviet-era howitzer it identified as the pro-Russian forces’ D-30.

The Ukrainian armed forces accused the separatists of wounding one soldier and killing another with the D-30 near the eastern town of Hranitne on the front line.

“Bayraktar was used in order to force the enemy to cease fire,” the Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said in a statement. “After that, the shelling of Ukrainian positions stopped.”

The sale of drones to Kiev placed Ankara in a delicate position, as Turkey also cooperates in the defense sector with Russia, Ukraine’s rival.

The drone strike did not inflict any military or civilian casualties, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed source in the self-proclaimed, separatist-held Donetsk People’s Republic as saying Wednesday.

The neighboring separatist-held Luhansk People’s Republic accused Kiev of using the Bayraktar in violation of ceasefire agreements that ban the deployment of foreign drones on the front line.

Tuesday’s drone strike is the first since Turkey delivered the first batch of Bayraktar TB2 to Ukraine in July.

The Turkish private company Baykar, which produces the armed drones, describes the TB2 model as a “medium altitude long endurance tactical unmanned aerial vehicle capable of conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and armed attack missions” with a range of up to 27 hours.

Media reports said Kiev plans to buy around 50 Bayraktar TB2 drones, a flagship model that has been used in conflicts against Russian proxies in Syria, Libya and the Nagorno-Karabakh region at the center of a decades-long dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Earlier this month, Ukraine also said it will build a factory to produce Turkish armed drones.

“A land plot on which the factory will be built has already been chosen,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a press conference with Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

“There were a number of obstacles to the implementation (of this project) but all of them have been removed,” he added, without providing further details.

In late September, Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Taran and Haluk Bayraktar — CEO of the Turkish company Baykar that produces Bayraktar armed drones — signed a memorandum to establish a joint training and maintenance center for the drones in Ukraine.

“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said after the signing of the memorandum with Baykar.

“This is an important event for us,” he added, according to a statement from the presidency.

Baykar will build this center on the land that belongs to Ukraine’s defense ministry near the town of Vasylkiv, located about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Kiev.

The Ukrainian army has been locked in a long-running conflict with separatist fighters in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014 after Moscow annexed the peninsula of Crimea from Kiev.

The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists, which Moscow denies.

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