Russia’s capital, Moscow, issued a warning against any “hostile” US flights on Wednesday as tensions continued to rise after a Russian fighter jet was accused of colliding with an American drone over the Black Sea.
Kyiv claimed the incident over international waters was an attempt by the Kremlin to escalate tensions with Ukraine, despite Russian denials that its Su-27 plane had clipped the propeller of an unmanned Reaper drone.
The crash on Tuesday heightened tensions between Moscow and its Western allies after it was blamed on reckless and unprofessional behavior by the United States.
Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said on Wednesday that his country “assumes” the United States will stop flights near Russian borders and end media speculation.
“We consider any action with the use of US weaponry as openly hostile,” he wrote on social media channel Telegram.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed on Tuesday that it had dispatched fighter jets after spotting a U.S. drone over the Black Sea, but it insisted it had nothing to do with the crash.
Russia claims its jets had no contact with the unmanned aircraft and that the Pentagon is lying about the drone’s mission being routine.
According to White House national security spokesman John Kirby: “obviously, we refute the Russians’ denial.”
The United States, he said, was making efforts to keep the downed drone out of enemy hands.
“We’ve taken steps to protect our equities with respect to that particular drone — that particular aircraft,” Kirby told CNN.
Kirby said in Washington that Russian intercepts over the Black Sea are common, but this one stands out because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was.
But the incident proved to the Ukrainians that the Russian president intended to increase the stakes of the conflict in Ukraine and draw in the United States.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council secretary Oleksiy Danilov said on social media that the incident involving the American MQ-9 Reaper UAV was Russia’s way of signaling its readiness to expand the conflict to involve other parties.
‘The point of this all-in strategy is to continuously up the ante,’ he elaborated.
Diplomats stationed in Brussels for NATO confirmed the incident but stressed that they did not anticipate a further escalation of hostilities at this time.
Under the condition of anonymity, a military source from the West told AFP that diplomatic channels between Russia and the United States could help contain any fallout.
According to the source, diplomatic channels will help defuse the situation.
NATO has been arming Kyiv to help it defend itself from Russia’s campaign in Ukraine, heightening concerns of an outright conflict between the two sides.
In November, reports of a missile strike in eastern Poland caused brief alarm before Western military sources determined it was likely a Ukrainian air defense missile and not a Russian one.
The United States has long operated over the Black Sea to keep an eye on Russian naval forces using MQ-9 Reapers for both surveillance and strikes.
The commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, General James Hecker, said that their 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.
Indeed, the near-collision between the two planes was directly attributable to the Russians’ reckless and unprofessional behavior.
The United States and its allies will keep flying missions in international airspace, he said, adding that the Russians should act in a professional and safe manner.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said the drone was “unflyable and uncontrollable so we brought it down,” adding that the collision likely damaged the Russian aircraft, but that it was still able to land afterward.
The United States has lost several Reapers in recent years, some of them to enemy fire.
U.S. Central Command reported that one was shot down over Yemen in early 2019 by a surface-to-air missile fired by Houthi rebels.
According to the US Air Force, a Reaper can travel more than 1,770 kilometers at altitudes of up to 15,000 meters while carrying a payload of Hellfire missiles or laser-guided bombs.