New Delhi: In a dramatic development, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed into the Black Sea after a Russian Su-27 fighter jet “collided” with it, the US military said Wednesday.
This marks the first time since the height of the Cold War that an American aircraft was brought down in a military manoeuvre by a Russian fighter plane.
However, the Russian defence ministry has said it scrambled fighter jets following the detection of a US drone over the Black Sea but denied causing it to crash, countering American allegations.
Giving details of the incident, the US European Command issued a statement saying that two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an “unsafe and unprofessional intercept” with a US Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea.
It said that 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.
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, the US Command added.
“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,” stated US Air Force General James B. Hecker, commander, US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa.
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash,” he added.
The top American military officer in the region asserted that US and allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and “we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely”.
According to the Russian defence ministry, the American drone was flying near the Russian border and intruded into an area declared off-limits by Russian authorities.
It said the Russian military scrambled fighters to intercept the drone, which it claimed crashed into the water after a sharp manoeuvre.
“As a result of a sharp manoeuvre, the US drone went into uncontrollable flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface,” the Russian ministry said.
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The US State Department has summoned the Russian ambassador to the nation, Anatoly Antonov, and lodged a strong protest over the incident.
Speaking to the media later, Antonov said US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, Karen Donfried, conveyed the US’ concerns about the incident and that they “exchanged our remarks on this issue because we have some differences”.
“It seems to me that it was a constructive conversation on this issue. I have heard her remarks, I hope that she has understood what I have mentioned,” Antonov said in response to a question from CNN.
Tensions have been going on over the Black Sea between the western forces and Russia since the nation’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
After the Russia-Ukraine war broke out in February last year, the US and UK have stepped up reconnaissance and surveillance flights over the sea.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
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