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US says drone recovery difficult as Russian ships at crash site

US General Mark Milley said the MQ-9 Reaper drone sank in an area of ​​the Black Sea with a depth of up to 1500 meters.

The recovery of a US surveillance drone that crashed after being intercepted by Russian fighter jets would be challenging given the deep waters in the Black Sea, a senior United States general said, as reports emerged of Russian ships at the crash site.

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said the remains of the uncrewed MQ-9 Reaper drone, which the US says was downed by one of two Russian Su-27 jets carrying the propeller of the drone clung to have sunk in waters as deep as 1,219 to 1,524 meters (4,000 to 5,000 feet).

“It probably sank to a considerable depth, so any recovery from a technical point of view would be very difficult,” Milley told reporters on Wednesday. Milley added that it would take several days for the US to know for sure how big the debris field is.

Moscow – which denies its jets were in physical contact with the drone – said it would try to retrieve the drone’s wreckage as reports emerged on Thursday of US officials confirming Russian ships had reached the crash site.

ABC News senior Pentagon reporter Luis Martinez tweeted that two US officials had confirmed the presence of Russian ships at the site of the crash in the Black Sea.

The Black Sea borders both Russia and Ukraine.

Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev told the Rossiya-1 TV channel on Wednesday that Russia would attempt a recovery operation for the US spy drone.

“I don’t know if we can get it back or not, but it has to be done. And we will definitely work on it. Of course I hope with success,” he said.

Milley said the US had taken steps to ensure that sensitive information would not be lost if the drone were recovered by Russia.

“We’re pretty sure that anything that used to be of value is no longer of value,” Milley said.

Patrushev also said the drone incident proved US involvement in the war in Ukraine. “This is another confirmation that they are directly involved in these actions, in the war,” he said.

Moscow’s ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said that by deploying a drone thousands of miles from the US and close to the Russian border, Washington proved it was collecting intelligence for the Ukrainian military to help it carry out attacks on Russian troops.

Ukrainian officials warned on Wednesday that the downing of the drone was a sign of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intention to “expand the conflict”.

“The goal of this all-in tactic is to always raise the stakes,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, said on social media.

But with US officials saying the Russian plane may have collided with the drone inadvertently and that Moscow, which maintains the jets, was not physically interfering with the plane, it appeared both sides were focused on restraint and preventing a military escalation. at a time of already fraught relations over Russia. war in Ukraine.

Milley, the US general, said it was clear that the interception and harassment of the drone by Russian jets was intentional, but it was unclear whether the Russian plane deliberately made contact with the MQ-9 – a maneuver that also put the Russian jet in could endanger.

“Was it intentional or not? I don’t know yet,’ said Milley.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department, said the incident was likely unintentional.

Milley also spoke to his Russian counterpart, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, on Wednesday in a rare phone call, the Pentagon said.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, after the incident, but did not provide details of their conversation.