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US drones flew overhead as Ukraine attacked Russian ships: Moscow

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo of a US RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle

Russia’s Defense Ministry has pointed to the likely presence of US drones in the air directing an attempted attack on the Russian Black Sea Fleet by Ukrainian gunboats.

"I would like to point special attention to the fact that during the attack by Ukrainian vessels, strategic US RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles were loitering over the area," said Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov in a briefing Saturday, Sputnik News reported.

"There is a strong likelihood that it was the American UAVs that directed Ukrainian boats at the ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet," Konashenkov added, referring to an operation carried out on Friday night.

According to the official, 16 Ukrainian Navy gunboats using 'swarm tactics' attempted to attack Russian warships near Zmiinyi Island (Snake Island) off Odessa, southwestern Ukraine on Friday night during the evacuation of 82 Ukrainian Border Guard servicemen that surrendered to Russian forces off the island.

Konashenkov further explained that some of the Ukrainian boats attempted to use civilian vessels as cover, adding that during the ensuing battle, six of the Ukrainian boats were destroyed.

He then emphasized that none of the 82 Ukrainian servicemen retrieved from Zmiinyi Island were injured.

According to the report, the reported bravery of the Ukrainian garrison on Zmiinyi soon became the subject of an internet lore, with an audio clip of Ukrainian troops telling a Russian warship to "go f*** yourself" accompanied with reports that all 13 defenders of the island were mowed down by the Russians spread on social media and by news outlets.

Ukrainian authorities then decided to honor the island's defenders with the Hero of Ukraine award.

However, on Saturday, the Russian military published footage showing 82 Ukrainian military personnel disembarking in Sevastopol, Crimea and being distributed field rations before being put on buses and sent home.

"They laid down their arms and decided to return to their families," said Maj. Gen. Mikhail Yasnikov, deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet for logistics, added that a safe corridor was provided for them to leave the area of Russia's military operation.

Meanwhile, Moscow had put its military operation in Ukraine on hold Friday afternoon after Kiev announced its readiness to negotiate, but resumed it on Saturday after Kiev rejected talks on the grounds that the conditions weren't right.

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