Lodi News-Sentinel

Russian fighter jet collides with U.S. drone over Black Sea

- Peter Martin

WASHINGTON — A Russian fighter jet collided with a U.S. surveillan­ce drone in internatio­nal airspace above the Black Sea, causing the American aircraft to crash, the Pentagon said, an incident that ratcheted up tensions already running high over the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s defense ministry denied the U.S. claim, saying its jets didn’t come into contact with the drone, according to a statement posted on Telegram. The statement said the drone’s transponde­rs were off, and it flew out of control and crashed “as a result of sharp maneuverin­g” and that the Russian aircraft returned safety to their base.

U.S. officials had a different descriptio­n of the event. The U.S. European command said the Su-27 warplane, accompanie­d by a second Russian jet, struck the propeller of the MQ-9 Reaper drone in what was an “unsafe and unprofessi­onal” intercept at around 7 a.m. local time. The two Russian fighter jets flew in front of and dumped fuel on the drone before the strike, it said.

“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in internatio­nal airspace when it was intercepte­d and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” Air Force General James Hecker said. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessi­onal act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”

The U.S. planned to summon Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, while U.S. Ambassador Lynn Tracy “conveyed a strong message to the Russian ministry of foreign affairs,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Price said the collision was a “brazen violation of internatio­nal law.”

The incident over the Black Sea appeared certain to cause a new spike in strains between Moscow and Washington, whose relationsh­ip has almost completely broken down over President President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago. It also fit what U.S. officials said was an increasing­ly aggressive pattern of behavior by Russian jets around the Black Sea, which is home to a Russian naval fleet, and surrounds the peninsula of Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

In February, the Pentagon scrambled fighter jets to counter four Russian aircraft that approached U.S. airspace off Alaska. The U.S. military was on heightened alert following the shooting down of an alleged Chinese spy balloon and a series of other unidentifi­ed objects over U.S. airspace.

“Russian irritation about U.S. and NATO activities in/ around the Black Sea is nothing new,” Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for Internatio­nal Peace, wrote in a tweet. “Surely, people in the Kremlin are smart enough to know that U.S. won’t back away from conducting surveillan­ce missions like the drone flight that a Russian jet crashed into today.”

U.S. officials echoed that argument, with White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby saying the U.S. would keep doing “what we need to do for our own national security interests in that part of the world.” He said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the incident.

Kirby said intercepts by Russian aircraft over the Black Sea are “not uncommon.”

The U.S. is working to declassify video of the incident, the Pentagon said. An early U.S. assessment of the incident found that the two Russian jets flew close to the drone for 30 to 40 minutes before the collision. The MQ-9 has a 66-foot wingspan and is powered by a tail-mounted propeller.

 ?? JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES ?? An MQ-9 Reaper drone on Nov. 4, 2022, at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES An MQ-9 Reaper drone on Nov. 4, 2022, at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

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