Washington says “reckless” Russian maneuvers forced the US to shoot down the MQ-9 drone, but Moscow denies there was a collision.
The White House has condemned Russia for “unsafe” and “reckless” jet maneuvers that the United States says led to the downing of a US drone in the Black Sea.
In a statement on Tuesday, the US military’s European command said a Russian Su-27 jet hit the propeller of the MQ-9 Reaper drone, forcing it to be shot down in international waters and the aircraft lost.
The Black Sea borders both Russia and Ukraine, which have been at war since Russia invaded its neighbor on February 24 last year.
The US military said prior to the collision at 07:03 local time (06:03 GMT), two Su-27s “dumped fuel and flew in front of the MQ-9” in what it described as a “reckless, environmentally unfriendly and unprofessional manner ”.
“Aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and can lead to miscalculations and unintentional escalation.” the explanation said.
The Russian Defense Ministry has denied that the Russian fighter jet and the drone made contact, saying later on Tuesday that the drone flew uncontrollably into the air during “sharp maneuvering” and crashed into the water.
“The Russian fighters did not use their weapons on board, did not come into contact with the UAV and returned safely to their home airfield,” the ministry said.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said President Joe Biden was made aware of the incident.
“It is not unusual for US aircraft to be intercepted by Russian aircraft over the Black Sea,” Kirby told reporters.
But this case “is notable for how unsafe and unprofessional it was, indeed (how) reckless it was,” Kirby said, adding “we don’t need to have some sort of check-in with the Russians before flying into international airspace” .
Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US would summon the Russian ambassador to Washington after the incident.
He added that the US ambassador in Moscow has delivered a strong message to the Russian foreign ministry.
Top NATO General Christopher Cavoli had also briefed NATO allies on the incident on Tuesday, an official told Reuters news agency.
Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern about US intelligence flights near the Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Tuesday’s incident came as Russian troops pushed forward in waves along the front line in eastern Ukraine, where fierce fighting was raging in Bakhmut.
The US military said it “follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with US and allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea”.
The United States uses MQ-9 Reapers for both surveillance and strikes. It has deployed the drones in various locations, including in the Middle East and Africa. Other countries, including Britain and France, also fly the drones.
Several US MQ-9s have been lost in recent years, including one shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Yemen in 2019, and another reportedly lost in Libya in 2022. The units reportedly cost about $32 million each.