US Air Force General James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said the 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.” He added that “in fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”
Russia’s Defence Ministry said the US drone was flying near its borders and intruded in the area that was declared off limits by Russia, causing the military to scramble fighters to intercept it.
“As a result of sharp manoeuvre, the US drone went into uncontrollable flight with a loss of altitude” and fell into the water, it said.
Moscow has repeatedly voiced concern about US intelligence flights close to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The Kremlin has charged that by providing weapons to Ukraine and sharing intelligence information with Kyiv, the US and its allies have effectively become engaged in the conflict.
The Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, described the US drone flight as a “provocation” and argued that there was no reason for US military aircraft and warships to be near Russia’s borders.
Speaking after meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Karen Donfried, Antonov insisted that the Russian warplanes didn’t hit the American drone or fire their weapons. He added that Moscow wants “pragmatic” ties with Washington, adding that “we don’t want any confrontation between the US and Russia”.
Kirby emphasised that the incident wouldn’t deter the US from continuing their missions in the area.
“If the message is that they want to deter or dissuade us from flying, and operating in international airspace, over the Black Sea, then that message will fail,” Kirby said, adding “that is not going to happen.”
“We’re going to continue to fly and operate in international airspace over international waters,” he said. “The Black Sea belongs to no one nation.”
The US European Command said the incident followed a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with US and Allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea.
“These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation,” it warned.
General David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, said that this type of collision is his greatest concern, both in that area of Europe as well as in the Pacific.
“Probably my biggest worry both there and in the Pacific is an aggressive Russia or China pilot or vessel captain, or something gets too close, doesn’t realise where they are, and causes a collision,” Berger said, in response to a question at a National Press Club event on Tuesday.
He said that whether an incident is intentional or not, it forces nation’s leaders to try and sort it out quickly from afar.
Amid the continuing fighting in Ukraine, a Russian missile on Tuesday struck an apartment building in the centre of Kramatorsk, killing at least one person and wounding nine others in one of Ukraine’s major city strongholds in its eastern Donetsk region.
The victims were among at least seven civilians killed and 30 wounded in 24 hours, Ukraine authorities said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video showing gaping holes in the façade of the low-rise building that bore the brunt of the strike. The impact damaged nine apartment blocks, a kindergarten, a local bank branch and two cars, said regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
“Russian troops are striking residential buildings, schools and hospitals, leaving cities on fire and in ruins,” Kyrylenko said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking on Tuesday during a meeting with workers at a helicopter factory in southern Siberia, once again cast the conflict in Ukraine as an existential one for Russia, charging that unlike the West — which, he said, is seeking to advance its geopolitical clout — it’s fighting for its existence as a state.
“For us, it’s not a geopolitical task,” Putin said, “it’s the task of survival of Russian statehood and the creation of conditions for the future development of our country.”
Russia had welcomed a Chinese peace proposal to end the fighting, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Kyiv’s refusal to have talks leaves Moscow with only military options.
“We must achieve our goals,” Peskov told reporters. “Given the current stance of the Kyiv regime, now it’s only possible by military means.”
The Russian onslaught has focused on the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut where Kyiv’s troops have been fending off Russian attacks for seven months and which has become a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance, as well as a focal point of the war.
Zelensky discussed the situation in Bakhmut with the top military brass and they were unanimous in their determination to face down the Russian onslaught, according to the presidential office.
“The defensive operation in [Bakhmut] is of paramount strategic importance to deterring the enemy. It is key for the stability of the defence of the entire frontline,” Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said.
On Tuesday, Zelensky dismissed three regional governors, including Luhansk in the east, Odesa on the Black Sea in the south and Khmelnytskyi region in the west, but no reason was given in the announcement by a government’s parliamentary representative.
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