Moscow on Wednesday said it would try to retrieve the wreckage of a US military drone that crashed over the Black Sea in a confrontation Washington blamed on two Russian fighter jets.
Russia also warned that it would react “proportionately” to any future US “provocations” as tensions simmered and Moscow denied its Su-27 military aircraft had clipped the propeller of the Reaper drone.
However, Washington was unbowed, with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin telling Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu that the US would continue flying “wherever international law allows.”
Moscow confirmed the call and said Washington had initiated it.
The Russia Ministry of Defense said US drone flights off the coast of Crimea “are provocative in nature, which creates preconditions for an escalation of the situation in the Black Sea zone.”
Meanwhile, Kyiv said the incident was evidence that the Kremlin wanted to draw the US into the Ukraine conflict.
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said in televised remarks that Moscow would seek to retrieve the downed craft, but was unsure if the effort would be a success.
“It has to be done. And we will certainly work on it,” he said.
US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told journalists that any recovery effort would be difficult, as the drone likely broke up and sank in an area where the water is up to 1,500m deep.
Even if Russia was able to recover the wreckage, the US took “mitigating measures” to protect sensitive information, he said.
“We are quite confident that whatever was of value is no longer of value,” Milley added.
The crash on Tuesday, which Washington said was the fault of reckless and unprofessional Russian conduct, further ratcheted up tensions between Moscow and Western allies, which have been soaring over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Patrushev said the incident was proof that the US is a direct party to fighting between Moscow and Kyiv, adding that Russia had a responsibility to “defend our independence and our sovereignty.”
Russia’s defense ministry said it had scrambled jets after detecting a US drone over the Black Sea, but denied causing the crash, saying the aircraft had lost control.
The Pentagon said the drone was on a routine mission when it was intercepted “in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner.”
Ukraine said the incident was “provoked by Russia” and cautioned that it signaled Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aim to “expand the conflict.”
“The purpose of this all-in tactic is to always be raising the stakes,” Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said on social media.
NATO diplomats in Brussels confirmed the incident, but said they did not expect it to immediately escalate into a further confrontation.
A Western military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that diplomatic channels between Russia and the US could help limit any fallout.
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