On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a statement condemning Russia’s recent downing of a US drone over the Black Sea as “aggressive.” He affirmed that US aircraft will continue to operate wherever international law permits, despite the incident. Austin described the incident as part of a pattern of “risky and unsafe actions” in international airspace. He made the comments at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and emphasized that Russia must operate its military aircraft safely and professionally.
On Wednesday, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev stated on state TV channel Rossiya 1 that Russia intends to recover the wreckage of the drone, which was downed over the Black Sea. He acknowledged that it might not be an easy task, but Russia is determined to do it. The US currently does not have any Navy ships in the Black Sea, making any attempted US recovery effort extremely challenging and time-consuming.
The incident occurred around 45 miles southwest of the Crimean peninsula, and the MQ-9 glided approximately 70 miles southwest of Crimea after the encounter. The Russian Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, denied the US’ account of the incident, stating that the MQ-9 “flew with its transponders off, violating the boundaries of the temporary airspace” and that Russian aircraft did not come into contact with it.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov defended Russia’s position, emphasizing that no weapons were used, and there was no physical contact. Peskov described the US-Russia relationship as deplorable and at its lowest point and confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin was briefed on the incident.
The US’s top general, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, is expected to speak with his Russian counterpart, Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, on Wednesday. The two military leaders have not spoken since late December.
Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, interpreted the incident as a signal of Putin’s willingness to expand the conflict zone with the involvement of other parties. He commented, “The all-in tactic is the constant raising of rates in conditions of a strategic loss and hoping that circumstances would change.”