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US and Russia Offer Different Explanations for Tuesday Drone Incident

The United States and Russia have offered up different explanations for the Tuesday incident in which a Russian fighter jet collided with an American MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone over the Black Sea.[0] The U.S. has accused Russia of operating its warplane in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner, while Russia has denied the accusations and blamed the drone’s “sharp maneuvering” for the crash.[1]

The U.S. military has released a newly declassified video, which it says shows the Russian fighter jet harassing and colliding with the drone.[2] The 42-second video begins with the Su-27 approaching from behind and to the right of the MQ-9A and then releasing fuel in a possible attempt to damage the drone.[3] The video then drops out for 60 seconds before resuming to show that one of the drone’s four propellers is damaged and its attitude is canted relative to the horizon.[4]

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley said Wednesday that it wasn’t clear whether the Russians intended to ram the MQ-9 drone’s propeller.[5] He added that the “very aggressive” episode fits “a pattern” of behavior by the Russians.[6]

In response to the incident, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said “the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows, and it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner.”[7]

Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said the US drone had gathered intelligence that was then used by Ukrainian forces to attack Russia.[8] He also claimed the drone was moving “deliberately and provocatively” toward Russian territory.[9]

Two U.S. officials have confirmed that Russian ships are at the scene of where the MQ-9 drone went down in the Black Sea and it appears they may have picked up pieces of the wreckage.[10] Gen. James B. Hecker, a senior military official overseeing Air Force operations in the region, said the drone was “conducting routine operations in international airspace” when it was hit by the Russian SU-27, adding that the crash caused the “complete loss” of the drone.[11]

The event on Tuesday was the most direct confrontation between the US and Russia since Russia's attack on Ukraine in February 2022.[11]

0. “Russian Ambassador: ‘Odious' Lindsey Graham Risks Nuclear War Over a Drone” The Daily Beast, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.thedailybeast.com/russian-ambassador-odious-lindsey-graham-risks-nuclear-war-over-a-drone

1. “Pentagon releases dramatic video said to show Russian jet collision with U.S. drone over Black Sea near Ukraine” CBS News, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-us-drone-collision-pentagon-releases-video-fighter-jet-mq-9-reaper-black-sea/

2. “U.S. releases video of Russian fighter jet intercepting drone over Black Sea” NBC News, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/us-releases-video-russian-fighter-jet-colliding-drone-black-sea-rcna75221

3. “Watch: Declassified Video Shows Su-27s Buzzing MQ-9 Before Crash” Aviation Week, 16 Mar. 2023, https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/budget-policy-operations/watch-declassified-video-shows-su-27s-buzzing-mq-9-crash

4. “U.S. releases footage of Russian jet intercepting drone above Black Sea” Axios, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/03/16/footage-russian-jet-us-drone

5. “Defense Secretary Austin speaks to Russian counterpart about US drone incident” ABC News, 15 Mar. 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/defense-secretary-austin-speaks-russian-counterpart-us-drone/story?id=97883575

6. “Replying to Russia's Drone Provocation – WSJ” The Wall Street Journal, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-drone-harassment-black-sea-ukraine-u-s-vladimir-putin-pentagon-e1397f33

7. “WATCH: Video of Russian Fighter Crashing Into US MQ-9 Released | Air & Space Forces Magazine” Air & Space Forces Magazine, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.airandspaceforces.com/watch-video-of-russian-fighter-crashing-into-us-mq-9-released/

8. “U.S. Black Sea Drone Loss ‘a Shame,' Russian Envoy Says” Newsweek, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/us-black-sea-drone-loss-shame-russian-envoy-anatoly-antonov-1788155

9. “US accuses Russia of downing drone over Black Sea: What we know” Al Jazeera English, 15 Mar. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/15/us-accuses-russian-jet-of-downing-us-drone-what-we-know-so-far

10. “Russian ships at US drone crash site in Black Sea, US official says: ‘They wasted no time'” Fox News, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.foxnews.com/world/russian-ships-us-drone-crash-site-black-sea-us-official-says-they-wasted-no-time

11. “What to know about MQ-9 Reaper drones and how U.S. is using them” The Washington Post, 15 Mar. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2023/03/14/mq-9-reaper-drone/

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