An air skirmish between Russia and the US has exponentially raised tensions surrounding the war in Ukraine on Tuesday. A Russian fighter jet caused a US Air Force spy drone to shoot down over the Black Sea in the morning, damaging the propeller of the device, an MQ-9 Reaper drone. The Russian fighter, a Su-27 model that was patrolling alongside another identical aircraft, hit the propeller of the US military surveillance drone, causing it to dive at an unspecified location in the Black Sea, in an incident that was condemned by the Pentagon. He called it “reckless”. Moscow’s version of the event is completely different from Washington’s. Russian and US aircraft flew over the Black Sea during the war in Ukraine, but this Tuesday is the first such interaction on record, a potentially dangerous escalation at a critical time in the offensive on the town of Bakhmut in eastern Donbass.

The Reaper drone, on reconnaissance and surveillance work, and two Russian Su-27 fighter jets were flying over international Black Sea waters 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 into international waters of the Black Sea.

US President Joe Biden was immediately informed of the incident, said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. While there have been other such interceptions, Kirby said, Tuesday’s “is unique in that it’s unsafe and unprofessional.” The US Air Force ruled in similar terms, which issued a statement accusing the Russian aircraft of acting in a “reckless, unenvironmental and unprofessional” manner. The State Department summoned the Russian ambassador in Washington, Anatoli Antonov, who considered the incident “a provocation [de EE UU]”, while his American counterpart in Moscow conveyed a “message [de protesta] strong” to the Foreign Ministry headed by Sergei Lavrov, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on a call with reporters.

Moscow’s version differs, as it denies that its planes shot down the device and attributes its crash to remote “poor pilotage”. According to the Kremlin, the drone was detected in the vicinity of the Crimean peninsula, illegally invaded and annexed by Moscow in spring 2014, “heading for the state border of the Russian Federation”. Despite the Russian version suggesting that it did not enter its territory, the department headed by Sergei Shoigu stresses that the drone entered an area that Moscow considers to belong to it with the transponders turned off. “The unmanned vehicle violated the airspace limits established on a temporary basis for the purpose of carrying out a special military operation. [la guerra de Ucrania]”. The Russian Ministry of Defense guarantees that this no-fly zone unilaterally declared by the Kremlin “has been 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.

Russian Ambassador to Washington Anatoli Antonov (in the center of the image) at the State Department headquarters in the US capital after being subpoenaed.
Russian Ambassador to Washington Anatoli Antonov (in the center of the image) at the State Department headquarters in the US capital after being subpoenaed.Patrick Semansky (AP)

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NATO’s Supreme Commander in Europe, US General Christopher Cavoli, briefed Alliance members on the event, explained an official at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Pentagon also reached out to its allies and partners in the campaign to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

Shortly after the Pentagon’s initial version was released, Army spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder added that the Russian jets flew close to the Reaper for 30 to 40 minutes before one of them collided with it. General Ryder said “US personnel” had forced the damaged drone down into the Black Sea, although he did not say where or if the military was trying to retrieve it. He added that the drone was conducting a reconnaissance mission in international waters “far away” from Ukraine. According to the military, the occurrence was recorded on video and the Department of Defense is carrying out the necessary procedures to declassify the images. If made public, the video would support the Pentagon’s version of events over the Russian version, the official said.

While the Joe Biden administration remains extremely cautious about what happened at the moment, confining itself to making protest statements, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described the incident as a “reckless act” by Russian President Vladimir Putin. his military. “I want to say to Mr. Putin: Stop this behavior before you are the reason for an unintentional escalation” of the conflict, Schumer declared at the opening of the daily session of the Upper House.

Two Su-27 fighter jets during a display at the opening ceremony of Russia's annual military games in Alabino in August.
Two Su-27 fighter jets during a display at the opening ceremony of Russia’s annual military games in Alabino in August.Maxim Shemetov (Reuters)

The United States has been operating Reaper surveillance 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 extended periods, making them an ideal platform for tracking movement on the battlefield. and in the Black Sea.

According to Kirby, incidents between the air forces of the two countries are “not uncommon”, but the nature of what happened on Tuesday ruled out the possibility of an accident. The United States does not consider it necessary to notify Russia in advance about this type of flight, which has been taking place for over a year, said the spokesman for the National Security Council, who guaranteed that they would continue.

The clash between Russia and the United States in the Black Sea comes hours after Moscow agreed to extend by 60 days Ukraine’s grain export agreement, on which the livelihoods of many countries in the global south, as well as the economies of the rest of the world, depend. planet. The grain supply crisis that occurred at the beginning of the war, until July, also directly affected the main world economy.

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