Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday brushed aside Western criticism of Kyiv using a Turkish-made drone in its conflict with pro-Moscow rebels, saying his country was “defending its territory,” Agence France-Presse reported.
The Ukrainian army this week released footage of what it said was its first use of the Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar drone against separatists in the east of the country, where it has been fighting a trench conflict since 2014.
France and Germany — both mediators of the conflict — criticized the move.
“Ukraine is defending its territory and its sovereignty,” Zelensky said in a statement published by his office.
“We do not attack, we only respond,” he said.
On Thursday, France said it was “concerned” by the use of the Bayraktar drone and by the “increasingly frequent use of heavy weaponry” that violates a ceasefire.
A spokeswoman for Germany’s foreign ministry has also criticized the move, according to the Ukrinform news agency.
The US embassy in Kyiv called on both sides of the conflict to respect a ceasefire agreement while saying that the separatists have also used this type of weapon.
“Official Russian rhetoric suggesting Ukraine is aggravating the situation is not only misleading, it serves to escalate tensions,” the embassy said in a statement on Facebook.
The Kremlin had warned Wednesday that the use of the Turkish-made drones could escalate the conflict.
The introduction of the drone is a potential game-changer in the years-long war.
Turkey’s sale of the unmanned aircraft to Kyiv complicates its ties with Russia, which has thrown its political weight behind the Ukraine separatists.
International monitors in eastern Ukraine, who use unmanned aircraft to report ceasefire violations, have recently said their drones were being jammed.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine, which erupted shortly after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
Kyiv and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to bolster the separatists, claims Moscow denies.