A US drone was shot down over the Black Sea on Wednesday, bringing the United States and Russia closer to direct conflict than they have been since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he spoke to his Russian counterpart about the incident.
Austin had not spoken with Defense Secretary Sergei Shoigu since October.
Minister Shoigu of Russia is my counterpart, and I just got off the phone with him,” Austin said at a Pentagon press briefing. The United States will continue flying and operating wherever international law allows, as I have said many times before. It is crucial that great powers serve as examples of openness and dialogue.
After a Russian fighter jet allegedly struck the Air Force MQ-9 Reaper’s propeller while it was flying in international airspace, the US military reported that it had to ditch the aircraft in the ocean. However, Russia insists it had nothing to do with the incident. The United States has said it is working to release drone surveillance footage that shows the crash that occurred on Tuesday.
The conversation between Austin and Shoigu over the Black Sea only added to the gravity of the situation. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, communication between US and Russian military leaders has been limited, with Russian officials initially refusing to take calls from US military leaders.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley said he would also meet with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
An apparent sign of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dissatisfaction with the status quo of the war, which has reached a stalemate, was the appointment of General Gerasimov as the new commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine in January and the demotion of the previous commander.
Even though the “intentional” moments leading up to the drone’s crash were clear, Milley admitted that it was still unclear whether Russia intended to down the drone.
The interception was a deliberate act, which we know for a fact. Milley affirmed that the hostility was deliberate. According to his briefing with reporters, however, it was still unclear whether or not the collision had been intentional.
According to Milley, the drone most likely went down in water between 1,200 and 1,500 feet deep (4,000 to 5,000 feet).
The public statements from Russia did not indicate that Austin and Shoigu had a de-escalating conversation on the phone.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Russia has closed off parts of the Black Sea to all air traffic during the conflict and that he believed the United States was trying to escalate the situation through the flights. Russia occupied and illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. The drone crashed near that region.
There are “very serious risks” if there is an incident that could lead to a conflict between the two great powers, Lavrov said.
In May of 2022, Austin and Shoigu had their first conversation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This meeting represented the highest level of U.S. and Russian communication during the conflict.
As tensions were rising in October, they had two phone conversations within three days of each other. Russia is looking for a false pretext to justify further escalation, which could include the use of a tactical nuclear weapon, as Shoigu had claimed after accusing Ukraine of planning to use a dirty bomb. This claim was strongly rejected by the United States and Western allies.
The United States government drone worth $32 million that was shot down over enemy territory contains top secret technology that has yet to be found. Since early 2022, the Black Sea has been off-limits to American military vessels that do not have a home port on its shores.
The United States claims Russia has already dispatched vessels to the area in an attempt to retrieve the drone’s components. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.