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Russian, US defense ministers discuss Black Sea drone crash

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin maintained Wednesday the US “would continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows.” This follows a US drone crashing in the Black Sea near Crimea on Tuesday morning, with the US saying a Russian fighter jet collided with it, causing it to crash.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s important that great powers be models of transparency and communication, and the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows,” Austin told reporters.

Austin also said he spoke to his Russian counterpart by phone to discuss the incident, but could not offer details of their conversation.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, on the call, said that American drone flights near Crimea’s coast “were provocative in nature” and could lead to “an escalation … in the Black Sea zone,” according to a ministry statement. Russia, the statement added, “had no interest in such a development but will in future react in due proportion.”

Although this marks the first time the two military chiefs spoke by phone about the drone incident, this was not their first conversation since the war in Ukraine began.

They spoke for the first time in May 2022, which at the time marked the highest level of contact between the US and Russia since the invasion

What happened over the Black Sea?

The US military said a Russian fighter jet had dumped fuel on an American drone over the Black Sea and then collided with it on Tuesday, causing the drone to crash. The Pentagon slammed the maneuver as “reckless.”

According to US European Command, two Russian Su-27 fighters intercepted the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper over international waters and one clipped its propeller.

Russia disputes the US rendition of how the crash took place, arguing that the drone was out of control and crashed of its own accord. 

The US has said it was working on declassifying surveillance footage from the drone that it said would show Tuesday’s crash.

Kyiv says Putin trying to ‘expand the conflict’

A Ukrainian official accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin earlier on Wednesday of trying to widen the conflict in Ukraine.

The assertion came after Washington said Russian fighter jets intercepted a US drone over the Black Sea, causing it to crash.

“The purpose of this all-in tactic is to always be raising the stakes,” Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council secretary Oleksiy Danilov said on social media.

“The incident with the American MQ-9 Reaper UAV — provoked by Russia over the Black Sea — is Putin’s way of signaling his readiness to expand the conflict to involve other parties.

Disputed borders and airspace around Crimea

Moscow has denied causing the crash of the drone. However, Russia’s ambassador to the US on Wednesday called on Washington to halt “hostile” flights near his country’s border after a US drone was intercepted by Russian fighters over the Black Sea.

Russian warplane hits US drone over Black Sea, Pentagon says

“We assume that the United States will refrain from further speculation in the media and stop flights near Russian borders,” ambassador Anatoly Antonov wrote on Telegram. “We consider any action with the use of US weaponry as openly hostile.”

Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and considers it its territory. Ukraine and most countries of the world do not recognize the annexation. 

The Kremlin also said that its relations with the United States were in a “lamentable state” and at their lowest level.

Drone may never be recovered

The US State Department summoned Russia’s ambassador to protest and told him that Moscow has to be more careful when flying in international airspace

“The message that we delivered to the Russian ambassador is that they need to be more careful in flying in international airspace near US assets that are, again, flying in completely legal ways, conducting missions in support of our national security interests,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.

He also said the MQ-9 surveillance drone has not been recovered and may never be recovered, given the depth of the Black Sea where it went down. “We are still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort. There may not be.”

Ukraine defends deployment of US drones

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Air Force has defended the deployment of US reconnaissance drones after the incident. “The Black Sea is not an internal sea of Russia, as they have occupied the Sea of Azov and consider it theirs,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuri Ihnat said.

The Black Sea is also bordered by NATO members, including Turkey and Romania, which is why the US drones are operating there on a legal basis, he added.

Pentagon: Russian pilots’ actions ‘unsafe, unprofessional’

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also urged Moscow to respect international airspace. “The key here is that all parties respect international air space and we urge the Russians to do so,” Wallace said at the DSEI Japan defense show in Chiba prefecture, near Tokyo.

Source : DW