US drone: More skirmishes ‘inevitable’ as Russia occupies Crimea

The US and Russia both downplayed their involvement after fighter jets shot down an American

The US and Russia both downplayed their involvement after fighter jets shot down an American “Reaper” drone in the Black Sea on Tuesday (Image: Shutterstock/Getty)

Incidents such as the downing of a US drone over the Black Sea are inevitable until Russia leaves Crimea, Ukraine’s foreign minister said.

Yesterday a Russian fighter jet collided with a $32 million US ‘Reaper’ drone, sending the unmanned spy ship crashing into the Black Sea.

The move marked the first time an American plane had been shot down by a Russian fighter jet since the height of the Cold War, sparking fears of an escalation between the two powers.

But despite the “deplorable state” of relations between the two nations, a Kremlin spokesman announced today that Russia will not rule out a “constructive dialogue” with the US.

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Asked whether the incident could ignite tensions with Washington, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, repeated the Russian Defense Ministry’s statement that Russian jets did not use their weapons or hit the US drone.

Peskov described US-Russia relations as at their lowest ebb, but added that “Russia has never refused constructive dialogue and does not refuse it now.”

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the drone was flying in international airspace and waters when the encounter with the Russian warplane took place on Tuesday.

He stressed that the presence of the drone over the Black Sea is not an unusual event.

“It’s also not uncommon for the Russians to try to intercept them,” Kirby said, adding that such an encounter “increases the risk of miscalculation and misunderstanding.”

Foreign Minister of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba told the BBC that he does not expect a serious diplomatic escalation.

Describing it as a “routine incident,” Mr Kuleba said: “As long as Russia controls Crimea, these types of incidents will be inevitable and the Black Sea will not be a safe place.


Ukraine’s foreign minister said such skirmishes were “inevitable” while Russia stays in Crimea (Image: Getty)

“So the only way to prevent such incidents is to drive Russia out of Crimea.”

While clashes between Russian and NATO planes are not uncommon – before the invasion of Ukraine, NATO planes were involved in an average of 400 interceptions with their Russian counterparts a year – the war has increased the importance and potential dangers of such incidents.

US military officials said the encounter took place Tuesday morning and lasted about 30 to 40 minutes.

Several times before the collision, Russian jets threw fuel at the drone in a “reckless, polluting and unprofessional manner” before flying under the vehicle and cutting off its propeller, rendering it “unairworthy”.

The MQ-9 Reaper drone has not yet been recovered from the Black Sea and it is unclear if it will.

Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov tweeted Wednesday that the drone incident “was a signal from Putin that he is ready to expand the conflict zone and involve other parties.”

At the Pentagon, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the interception by the Russian jet was part of a “pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.”

Russian President Putin attends the Commonwealth of Independent States summit

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia is open to a “constructive” dialogue with the US (Image: Getty)

He said Russia must operate its planes safely.

“Make no mistake, the United States will continue to fly and operate wherever international law allows,” he added.

After being summoned to speak with officials in Washington, Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov said Moscow viewed the drone incident as a “provocation”.

Mr. Antonov added that from the Kremlin’s perspective, “the unacceptable activity of the US military in the immediate vicinity of our borders is a cause for concern.”

Asked by the BBC whether the US and its allies could become more cautious after the incident, Mr Kuleba said: “Sentiment is not meant to escalate, but neither is sentiment to bow to pressure – physical or rhetorical – from Russia. ‘

“If the West wants to show its weakness, it should certainly show its caution after such an incident, but I don’t feel that’s the mood in the capitals,” he replied.

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Justin Scacco

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