According to US officials, Russian fighter jets pushed a US drone out of the sky on Tuesday over international waters in the Black Sea.
US Air Force General James B Hecker of Detachment Europe Command said a pair of Russian Su-27s performed a “reckless, unsustainable and unprofessional” set of maneuvers, dropping fuel and damaging the propeller of a US Air Force MQ-9 drone, forcing the US to shoot down an unmanned aerial vehicle ship.
“In fact, this dangerous and unprofessional act by the Russians almost caused both planes to crash,” he added.
The European command warned that “these aggressive actions by Russian crews are dangerous and may lead to miscalculations and unintended escalation.”
The UAV was flying “away from any territory over Ukraine” on an unspecified intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission, the U.S. Department of Defense said Tuesday.
Aircraft from both countries have operated over the Black Sea, which borders Russia and Ukraine, since the former’s complete invasion in February 2022.
State Department spokesman Ned Price called it a “brazen violation of international law” and said the US called on the Russian ambassador to protest, and US ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy made similar statements in Moscow.
White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby said the incident would not stop the US from continuing its mission in the region.
“If the message is that they want to discourage or dissuade us from flying and operating in international airspace over the Black Sea, then this message will fail,” he said.
“We will continue to fly and operate in international airspace over international waters,” he said. “The Black Sea does not belong to any nation.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said its fighter jets had no contact with the US drone. “The Russian fighters did not use their carrier weapons, did not come into contact with the UAV and safely returned to their home airfield,” it said.
Russian planes were actually damaged in the clash, US Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said during a Tuesday news conference.
He added that the downed U.S. drone was not captured by Russia, but declined to provide further details on whether or how the UAV could be recovered.
Interactions with Russian aircraft are common during operations in the area, but National Security Council spokesman Kirby told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that the incident “is notable for how dangerous and unprofessional it was, even reckless.”
Drones have become a key element of the war in Ukraine on both sides.
The US has delivered more than 700 small Switchblade drones to Ukraine as part of various security assistance packages. The ships are not armed, but can be carried in backpacks and used to crash into targets, becoming a key weapon for Ukrainian forces, Wall Street Journal reports.
So far, the U.S. has refused to supply Ukraine with long-range armed U.S. drones like the Reaper or Gray Eagle because of concerns that Russia could gain access to the technology on board if one were shot down, according to DefenseNews.
All told, the United States has given Ukraine about $34 billion in security assistance since 2014, when Russia first invaded the country, according to the Congressional Research Service.