An air skirmish between Russia and the US has exponentially raised the tension around the war in Ukraine on Tuesday. A Russian fighter plane caused the downing of a US Air Force spy drone over the Black Sea in the morning by damaging the propeller of the device, an MQ-9 Reaper drone. The Russian fighter, an Su-27 model that was patrolling alongside another identical aircraft, struck the propeller of the US military surveillance drone, causing it to plunge into an unspecified location in the Black Sea in an incident that was condemned by the Pentagon, which He called it “reckless”. The version of the event offered by Moscow differs completely from that of Washington. Russian and American aircraft have flown over the Black Sea in the course of the war in Ukraine, but this Tuesday is the first such interaction on record, a potentially dangerous escalation at a critical moment in the offensive on the city of Bakhmut, in the eastern region of Donbas.
The Reaper drone, in reconnaissance and surveillance work, and two Russian Su-27 fighters were flying over international waters of the Black Sea when one of the Russian aircraft intentionally flew in front of the drone and dumped fuel on it, according to the US version. On approach, one of the fighters damaged the Reaper’s propeller, which is mounted on the rear of the drone. The impact on the propeller caused the device to fall in international waters of the Black Sea.
US President Joe Biden was immediately informed of the incident, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reported. Although there have been other interceptions of this type, Kirby said, the one on Tuesday “is unique, because it is unsafe and unprofessional.” The US Air Force has ruled in similar terms, which has issued a statement accusing the Russian aircraft of acting in a “reckless, unecological and unprofessional” manner. The government has summoned the Russian ambassador in Washington early in the afternoon, while his American counterpart in Moscow has transmitted a “forceful message (of protest)” to the Foreign Ministry headed by Sergei Lavrov, said Ned Price, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs. State, in a call with journalists.
The Moscow version differs, since it denies that its planes shot down the device and attributes its fall to remote “bad piloting”. According to the Kremlin, the drone was detected in the vicinity of the Crimean peninsula, illegally invaded and annexed by Moscow in the spring of 2014, “heading for the state border of the Russian Federation.” Despite the fact that the Russian version suggests that it did not enter its territory, the department headed by Sergei Shoigu emphasizes that the drone entered an area that Moscow considers to belong to it with the transponders turned off. “The unmanned vehicle violated the limits of the airspace established under a temporary regime for the purpose of conducting a special military operation (the Ukrainian war).” The Russian Ministry of Defense ensures that this no-fly zone declared unilaterally by the Kremlin “was published and communicated to all users of international airspace in accordance with international standards.” The pilots of the two Russian fighters returned “safe and sound” to their base.
NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, US General Christopher Cavoli, has informed Alliance members of the event, an official at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels explained on condition of anonymity. The Pentagon has also contacted its allies and partners in the campaign to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion.
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Shortly after the initial Pentagon version was released, Army spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder added that the Russian jets had been flying close to the Reaper for 30 to 40 minutes before one of them collided with it. General Ryder said “US personnel” forced down the damaged drone into the Black Sea, though he did not say where or if the military was trying to recover it. He did add that the drone had been conducting a reconnaissance mission over international waters “well off” Ukraine. According to the military, the incident has been recorded on video and the Department of Defense is taking the necessary steps to declassify the images. If made public, the video would support the Pentagon’s version of events over the Russian’s, the official said.
Although the Joe Biden Administration remains extremely cautious about what happened for the moment, limiting itself to protest statements, the leader of the Senate’s Democratic majority, Chuck Schumer, has described the incident as a “reckless act” by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and their military. “I want to tell Mr. Putin: stop this behavior before you are the reason for an unintended escalation” of the conflict, Schumer declared at the opening of the daily session of the Upper House.
The United States has been operating surveillance Reaper drones for months over the strategic Black Sea, the only outlet to the Mediterranean for Russia, as well as for Ukraine’s grain-laden ships. According to the US Air Force, Reaper drones can fly at altitudes of up to 15,000 meters and have sensors and capabilities to gather information and perform reconnaissance tasks for long periods of time, making them an ideal platform for tracking movements on the battlefield and in the Black Sea.
According to Kirby, incidents between the air forces of both countries “are not uncommon,” but the nature of what occurred today rules out the possibility of an accident. The United States does not consider it necessary to notify Russia in advance of these types of flights, which have been carried out for more than a year, said the spokesman for the National Security Council, assuring that they will continue.
The clash between Russia and the US in the Black Sea occurs hours after Moscow agreed to extend the agreement for the export of grain from Ukraine for 60 days, on which the subsistence of many countries in the global south depends, as well as the economies from the rest of the planet. The grain supply crisis that took place in the early stages of the war, until last July, also directly affected the world’s largest economy.
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