Russia has warned the United States to end “hostile” activity near its border after a dramatic incident involving a US drone over the Black Sea.
Ukraine said on Wednesday that the episode – the first known direct confrontation between the two superpowers since the war began last year – reflected the Kremlin’s willingness to escalate the conflict.
The US military said a Russian fighter jet on Tuesday disturbed the propeller of an MQ-9 Reaper drone and then collided, forcing the US to bring the drone down in international waters. Washington said it was a “gross violation of international law” and summoned Moscow’s envoy to register a protest.
But Russia blames the US for conducting surveillance near its airspace to help Ukraine.
“We proceed from the fact that the United States should refrain from further speculation in the media landscape and will stop conducting sorties near Russian borders,” the country’s ambassador to the US said after their meeting at the State Department. “We regard any action involving the use of US weapons and military equipment as openly hostile,” Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said in a statement published on the embassy’s Telegram on Wednesday.
Antonov insisted that the Russian warplanes did not shoot down the American drone or use their weapons. He echoed earlier claims by Moscow’s defense ministry, which said it had scrambled planes to intercept drones after they intruded into an area near Crimea that Russia had claimed for the purposes of its “special military operation”. The limit was announced for
“The unacceptable actions of the US military close to our borders are a cause for concern,” Antonov said. “They gather intelligence, which is then used by the Kiev regime to attack our armed forces and territory.”
He added that Russia “does not want confrontation.”
But the incident highlighted rising tensions over the war in Ukraine, with the Kremlin keen to dissuade the US from maintaining its support for Kiev.
The conflict was a sign of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “readiness to expand the conflict zone with the involvement of other parties,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Twitter on Wednesday. Putin was losing the battlefield and therefore constantly raising the stakes “in the hope of a change in circumstances”, he said.
Britain’s Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, also called on Russia to respect international airspace.
“The key here is that all parties respect international airspace and we urge the Russians to do the same,” Wallace told Reuters at a defense show in Japan.
According to the US European Command, two Russian Su-27 fighter jets tracked the US surveillance drone as it was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea, which is bordered by Turkey, Ukraine and Russia.
Prior to the collision, the jets “refueled and took off in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” it said in a statement.
The US summoned Antonov to the State Department over the incident, spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday, to express “strong objection” to this “unsafe unprofessional interception”.
A senior State Department official said the meeting Tuesday afternoon between Antonov and Assistant Secretary for Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried lasted less than an hour.
Two US defense officials said the Russian jet that hit the drone did not crash, but instead landed in Crimea.
Officials said it is the first time they have learned that a Russian jet has dumped fuel on a US aircraft during an intercept.
Officials said the US has wiped the drone’s software and is considering options for salvaging the wreckage, but the Russians may be able to reach the drone’s remains faster than the US ship. The US would need to send a ship from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea via the Bosporus, while the Russians have ships in the Black Sea.
Officials said the Turks have in recent months resisted allowing US and other warships to pass through the strait.
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