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US-Russia Tensions Rise After Drone Collision in Black Sea

On Tuesday, March 14th, the U.S. Defense Department’s European Command released a video clip of a Russian Su-27 fighter jet colliding with a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea. The U.S. military has stated that the drone was on a “routine mission in international airspace” when the incident happened, and that the Russian jet sprayed the drone with what appeared to be jet fuel. The Pentagon press secretary, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, noted that the jets flew in a “reckless and unprofessional manner” before the collision, and that the collision nearly caused both aircraft to crash.[0]

Russia has denied their aircraft came into contact with the drone and blames the crash on a “sharp manoeuvre” performed by the drone, while the U.S. insists the drone was in international airspace and that the incident is the latest in a “pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots.”[1] Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov has accused the U.S. of supplying intelligence to Kyiv, while the Russian Defense Ministry Telegram channel reported that Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has blamed the incident on the U.S.’s “non-compliance with the restricted flight zone declared by the Russian Federation.”[2]

Both sides agree that the drone became unflyable and that the U.S. brought it down in the Black Sea.[3] While it is not clear if the collision was an accident or intentional, the MQ-9 Reaper is a large remotely piloted aircraft, 11 meters long with a wingspan of over 22 meters, and can be armed if deemed necessary.[4] It is primarily used as an intelligence-collection asset, but it has frequently been used in drone strikes against targets in the ongoing war on terror.[4]

The incident has sparked fears of direct military hostilities between the nuclear superpowers, but the U.S. has vowed to continue operations in international airspace and the NATO official has underscored the importance of the Black Sea region for U.S. national security. Russia, meanwhile, has awarded state honors to the pilots of the two fighter jets and has attempted to recover the remains of the drone.[5]

0. “Colbert Knows How Reagan Would Really Respond to Russia: Take Them Down ‘By Funneling Crack Into Neighborhoods’ (Video)” Yahoo Life, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/colbert-knows-reagan-really-respond-144605521.html

1. “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/

2. “Pentagon releases new video of Russian jet dumping fuel on US drone” WABC-TV, 16 Mar. 2023, https://abc7ny.com/new-video-us-surveillance-drone-russian-aircraft-russia-war-plane/12961722

3. “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/

4. “US releases footage of Russian jet crashing into American drone over Black Sea” The Guardian US, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/mar/16/us-releases-footage-russian-jet-crashing-into-american-drone-over-black-sea

5. “Russia awards pilots involved in confrontation with a U.S. drone over Black Sea” NPR, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/03/17/1164156844/russia-awards-pilots-involved-in-confrontation-with-a-u-s-drone-over-black-sea

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