Russia and U.S. in race to grab downed drone
RUSSIAN divers were last night searching the Crimean coast for the wreckage of a US drone.
The MQ-9 Reaper was operating over the Black Sea when it was brought down by Russian planes.
But Moscow’s hopes of finding an intelligence treasure trove could be dashed because the Pentagon says it has disabled the drone’s surveillance systems.
The Mail also understands that Reaper computers do not store sensitive information – it is instead relayed back to a ground control station in the US.
The Russians are likely to be aware of this procedure so their bid to recover the drone may be mainly for propaganda purposes. They also know that the incident will not have significantly compromised Western intelligence gathering given the use of satellites and other elecrecover tronic warfare options.
Defence sources said Western drones used to gather battlefield information for the Ukrainians will in future be accompanied by fighter planes.
It is thought one of the Russian jets deliberately clipped the drone’s rear propeller, disabling its engine.
The motivation is most likely to have been drawing a response from Ukraine’s Western allies – which the Kremlin could then present to the Russian public as evidence their national security was in jeopardy.
American security officials have dampened speculation that they are searching for the drone themselves, at least not with any urgency.
Tuesday’s ‘superpower clash’ was the first of the Ukraine conflict and the first between US and Russian forces since 2020 when convoys of opposing soldiers crashed into each other in Syria. Moscow has long voiced concern about US surveillance flights near its borders, but the
drone incident signalled its increasing readiness to further raise tensions between the two nuclear powers.
Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said in televised remarks that the drone incident was ‘another confirmation’ of direct US involvement in the Ukraine conflict. The Kremlin has repeatedly said Washington and its Nato allies have become direct war participants by supplying weapons and intelligence to the Kyiv government and pressuring the country not to negotiate a peace settlement.
Mr Patrushev, a close confidant of President Vladimir Putin, also said Russia planned to search for the drone’s remains. ‘I don’t know if we can
them or not, but we will certainly have to do that, and we will deal with it,’ he said. ‘I certainly hope for success.’
Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, said it had the technological capability to recover the drone’s wreckage.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated the Defence Ministry’s statement that the two Russian jets did not use their weapons or in any way impact the US drone.
In Washington, Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov expressed concern about ‘the unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders’.
‘What do they do thousands of miles away from the United States?’ he said in remarks the Russian embassy released on Wednesday. ‘The answer is obvious – they gather intelligence which is later used by the Kyiv regime to attack our armed
forces and territory.’ A US official said it was unclear whether Washington could recover the fragments after securing the information on the drone.
The UK Ministry of Defence said yesterday that British and German fighter jets were scrambled on Tuesday to intercept a Russian aircraft approaching Estonian airspace.
The two Western allies are conducting joint air policing missions in the Baltic state as part of Nato’s bolstering of its eastern flank.
The MoD said the Typhoon jets responded after a Russian air- to- air refuelling aircraft failed to communicate with Estonian air traffic control.
The Russian plane did not enter the airspace of Estonia, which is a Nato member.
Late last year a Russian jet ‘accidentally’ fired a missile near an unaccompanied UK surveillance aircraft over the Black Sea.