Russian group ‘intercepts’ U.S. drone over Crimea

Russian arms group, Rostec, says it was able to break the communication link between the drone and its operators

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A Russian arms group said on Friday it has intercepted a surveillance drone belonging to the United States above the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

“The drone was flying at about 4,000 meters (12,000 feet) and was virtually invisible from the ground. It was possible to break the link with U.S. operators with complex radio-electronic” technology, said Rostec in a statement quoted by Agence France-Presse.

Rostec said the alleged U.S. drone fell “almost intact into the hands of self-defense forces.”

The Russian arms and technology group said it had manufactured the equipment used to down the aircraft, but did not specify who was operating it.

“Judging by its identification number, UAV MQ-5B belonged to the 66th American Reconnaissance Brigade, based in Bavaria,” Rostec said on its website, which also carried a picture of what it said was the captured drone.

The photograph appeared to show an apparently armed drone in flight, rather than debris.

The United States earlier said it is ready to respond quickly to the crisis in Ukraine after Russia failed to take steps to ease the conflict.

“We have obviously not gotten to a situation where Russia has chosen to de-escalate, where Russia has chosen a path of resolving the situation peacefully and through diplomacy. That is regrettable. We will have to see how the next several days unfold,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing.

“We stand ready to respond should the referendum go forward on Sunday,” Carney said. Asked how soon the response would come, he said, “I think without putting too fine a point on it, I'd say quickly.”

“We still hope that there is an avenue here that Russia will take in order to address its concerns in Ukraine in a manner consistent with international law, in a manner that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Carney added.

“But there's no question that we're pretty late in the game here with regards to the situation and this referendum on Sunday,” Carney added.

Carney’s comments came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London in talks aimed at reducing tensions ahead of the planned referendum.

Lavrov said on Friday that his country has no plans to invade southeast Ukraine.

“Russia has no, and cannot have, any plans to invade the southeast region of Ukraine,” Lavrov said.

After several hours of talks with Kerry, Lavrov confirmed there was “no common vision” between the two nations - although he described the dialogue as “useful.”

He reaffirmed that Russia will “respect the results of the referendum” in Crimea and said sanctions would harm relations. “Our partners also realize that sanctions are counterproductive,” he said.

European and U.S. leaders have repeatedly urged Moscow to pull back its troops in Crimea or face possible economic sanctions and political isolation.