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Russia views US drone incident as provocation, ambassador says

By Julia Shapero,

2023-03-15

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Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. said Moscow views Tuesday’s incident between a U.S. drone and a Russian fighter jet, which resulted in the downing of the American aircraft over the Black Sea, as a provocation.

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov was summoned to the State Department on Tuesday, and characterized his message in that meeting in remarks to reporters posted to the embassy’s website.

“I stressed that the American [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was moving deliberately and provocatively towards the Russian territory with its transponders turned off violated the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation,” he said.

“The unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders are cause for concern,” Antonov added. “We are well aware of the missions such reconnaissance and strike drones are used for.”

A U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone was “conducting routine operations in international airspace” over the Black Sea when it was intercepted by two Russian fighter jets, with one dumping fuel on the unmanned drone and another clipping its propeller, according to U.S. European Command.

“It is not uncommon for there to be intercepts by Russian aircraft of U.S. aircraft over the Black Sea,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. “And there have been, even in just recent weeks, there have been other intercepts.”

“But this one obviously is noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was … in causing the downing of one of our aircraft,” he added.

However, Russia’s Defense Ministry has claimed that the drone intruded on off-limits airspace near Crimea — which the U.S. does not recognize as belonging to Russia — and claims that its fighter jets did not come in contact with the unmanned aircraft.

“As a result of a sharp maneuver, the MQ-9 drone went into unguided flight with a loss of altitude and crashed into the water,” the ministry said.

The Russian ambassador doubled down on these claims, also suggesting that the U.S. would act in an “uncompromising way” if a Russian drone appeared near its territory.

“If, for example, a Russian strike drone appeared near New York or San Francisco, how would the U.S. Air Force and Navy react?” Antonov said. “I am quite confident that the U.S. military would act in an uncompromising way and would not allow its airspace or territorial waters to be breached.”

However, Kirby suggested during an interview with CNN on Tuesday that the public should take Russia’s denial with “a huge grain of salt.”

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