US accuses ‘reckless’ Russia of causing spy drone crash in Black Sea

Moscow blames Washington for ‘provocation’ close to Ukraine’s occupied Crimea

A US MQ-9 Reaper was struck by a Russian Su-27 fighter jet in the Black Sea region on Tuesday. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The United States has said a Russian fighter jet struck one of its surveillance drones and caused it to crash-land in the Black Sea, in an incident that Moscow blamed on Washington amid rising tension between the two nuclear powers over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US summoned Russian ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov to the State Department to protest over the alleged collision with the US MQ-9 Reaper drone, and said its air force would continue to fly in international airspace over the Black Sea, which has been a flashpoint since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.

Ukraine’s political and military leaders agree to keep defending BakhmutOpens in new window ]

“Two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a US air force . . . unmanned MQ-9 aircraft that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea today,” the US military’s European Command said in a statement on Tuesday.

“At approximately 7.03am Central European time, one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing US forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters,” the US military added.

READ MORE

“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner. This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional.”

The US military was forced to crash its MQ-9 Reaper drone because of damage caused when it was struck by a Russian jet, the Pentagon has said. Video: Reuters

The defence ministry in Moscow claimed the drone was flying towards Crimea and entered airspace that Russia says is subject to special security rules during what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” – its year-old, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“The drone flew with its transponders off, violating the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime . . . As a result of abrupt manoeuvring . . . the MQ-9 drone went into uncontrolled flight with loss of altitude and hit the surface of the water,” the ministry said.

“The Russian aircraft did not use on-board weapons, did not come into contact with the drone and returned safely to their home airfield.”

Mr Antonov accused Washington of a “provocation” aimed at discrediting Russia.

The US state department called the incident “a brazen violation of international law” and White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the US would continue to “operate . . . over international waters. The Black Sea belongs to no one nation.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe