After a U.S. drone was shot down over the Black Sea, Lloyd Austin, the United States Secretary of Defense, confirmed that he spoke with Sergei Shoigu, his Russian counterpart. Although Austin admitted that he and Shoigu spoke on Wednesday, he has withheld other information about their conversation. Moscow is to blame for the incident, according to Washington.
The uncommon and significant discussions occurred just a day after U.S. officials reported that a Russian fighter jet had contacted the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone, ultimately destroying it. Moscow has denied the occurrence of any such collision. This event marks the initial time military equipment from the U.S. and Russia has made contact since the Ukrainian conflict began in February 2022. The drone incident has stoked fears of a potential escalation in tensions between the two nations.
Following the downing of a United States drone over the Black Sea, the U.S. and Russian defense ministers held a phone call on Wednesday, as the Russian defense ministry reported. The incident occurred on Tuesday and was deemed “unsafe” and “reckless” by U.S. officials.#Austin pic.twitter.com/ym2EPXweH5
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) March 16, 2023
During a press conference at the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin displayed caution by expressing the United States’ commitment to avoiding any possibility of escalation in the situation. Austin emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the two nations, highlighting the U.S.’ belief in transparency and communication as crucial for great powers. The Defense Secretary reaffirmed that the U.S. would continue to conduct operations following international law, regardless of any perceived threats.
U.S. Version of the Black Sea Incident
The exchange between top-level U.S. and Russian defense officials has been notably scarce since Russia launched its all-out attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Lloyd Austin and Sergei Shoigu discussed Russia’s aggressive actions in May of the preceding year. Then, in October, they spoke twice in three days during heightened apprehension regarding the potential for the conflicts to escalate further.
During the Wednesday news conference, Austin reaffirmed the U.S. account of the events that transpired over the Black Sea earlier this week. Austin stated that a Russian fighter jet had intercepted the U.S. drone in airspace that falls under international jurisdiction. Additionally, he emphasized that the incident was just one of several aggressive and risky actions committed by Russian pilots in international airspace. The officials also discussed that the Russian jet discharged fuel on the $30 million drone before the collision occurred. Mark Millet, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Austin.
According to Mark Milley, there are still unresolved questions regarding whether Russia deliberately intended to take down the drone, even though the events leading up to the crash were intentional. In a press conference held with reporters, Milley asserted that they were aware that the interception was premeditated, and the aggressive behavior exhibited by the Russian fighter jet was also international. He highlighted video evidence of the fuel dumping before the collision, confirming it was intentional. However, Milley expressed uncertainty about whether the actual physical contact between the aircraft was intentional, and further investigation is required to establish this.
U.S. Officials Comment on Recovery of Downed Drone in Black Sea
Milley remarked that the recovery of the downed drone had been impeded by the fact that it is situated in deep waters, ranging from 1,219 to around 1,524 meters (4,000 to 5,000 feet). However, he affirmed that the U.S. had taken necessary measures to prevent sensitive intelligence from falling into Russian hands if the drone were to be retrieved. According to Milley, they are confident that whatever valuable information the drone possessed is no longer of value at this point.
Milley also stated that he intended to discuss the recent incident with his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov, who serves as the chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces. Although Russia has admitted to intercepting the drone, they deny any physical contact with the U.S. aircraft, asserting instead that the drone crashed during a “sharp maneuver.”
Russia has claimed that the drone had violated a restricted area that was declared off-limits by Russian authorities. Russia has announced the areas near Crimea as no-fly zones, a move that the U.S. does not recognize. Meanwhile, the Russian ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was summoned by the U.S. Department of State to explain the incident. Antonov, in response, reportedly told U.S. officials that Russia would not permit any infringement of its territorial waters, as the TASS news agency reported.
Antonov claimed the drone was deliberately and provocatively moving toward Russian territory with its transponders turned off. He also said that his meeting with the U.S. officials at the State Department was productive and constructive. Antonov stated that the possible consequences for Moscow over the incident were not discussed during the meeting. The RIA state news agency also reported Antonov’s statement on Wednesday.
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