Russian ambassador accuses US of 'act of provocation' and denies Kremlin was behind downing of American Reaper drone

15 March 2023, 07:20 | Updated: 15 March 2023, 09:31

The White House has said the downing of an American drone was "unsafe and unprofessional"
The White House has said the downing of an American drone was "unsafe and unprofessional". Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The Russian ambassador has accused the US of an "act of provocation" and denied claims the Kremlin was behind the downing of an American Reaper drone over the Black Sea.

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A Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a US surveillance drone over the Black Sea, causing American forces to bring down the unmanned aerial vehicle in international waters, the US military said.

The White House said the downing of the American drone was "unsafe and unprofessional", but Moscow has denied involvement.

Russia's ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said: "We view this incident as a provocation."

He was summoned by the US State Department to answer for the incident.

"What would the be reaction of the United States if you see such a Russian drone very close to, for example, San Francisco or New York?" Mr Antonov asked as he left the department building in Washington. 

"For me it's clear, for you as well."

Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, departs after meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for Europe
Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, departs after meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for Europe. Picture: Alamy

It came after the Russian Defense Ministry suggested the US aircraft instead went into "uncontrolled flight" due to "sharp manoeuvring".

US Air Force General James Hecker said: "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."

"In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.

"US and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely."

The drone was downed over the Black Sea
The drone was downed over the Black Sea. Picture: Alamy

Mr Antonov later went on to say: "There are some problems regarding international waters, for example, we can see that Crimea is a part of the Russian Federation. The United States does not recognise this status.

"Does it mean its necessary to provoke Russian navy of Russian Air Force on this issue?"

He added: "The unmanned vehicle, this drone, can carry 1,700 kilos of explosives. This drone can carry a few bombs."

Mr Antonov said the State Department meeting was "constructive" and the issue of possible "consequences" for Moscow over the incident was not raised.

"As for us, we do not want any confrontation between the United States and Russia. We are in favour of building pragmatic relations for the benefit of the Russian and American peoples," Mr Antonov said.

MQ-9 Reaper drone
MQ-9 Reaper drone. Picture: Getty

US President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

The US military said one of two Russian jets collided with a US drone over the Black Sea, causing the drone to crash at around 07:00 central European time.

The Russian fighter jets had been flying near the unmanned US drones for around 30 minutes before the crash.

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The US European Command said in a statement that two Russian Su-27 fighter jets "conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept" of a US MQ-9 drone that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea.

It said one of the Russian fighters "struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing US forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters".

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: Getty

Prior to that, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 several times before the collision in "a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner", the US European Command said in a statement from Stuttgart, Germany.

"This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional," it added.

Mr Kirby emphasised that the incident would not 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," Mr 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."

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