(Paris) The United States on Tuesday accused Russian aircraft of having “intercepted and rammed” an American Reaper drone over the Black Sea and caused it to fall, an act described as “reckless” by Washington and making fear a dangerous escalation, but which Moscow has denied.
“Our MQ-9 drone was performing routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and rammed by a Russian aircraft, resulting in the crash and loss of the MQ-9,” said General James Hecker, Commanding Officer American air forces in Europe, confirming information revealed earlier by AFP on an incident involving a Reaper in the Black Sea.
This is the first time since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory on February 24, 2022 that a NATO country, supporting Ukraine, has admitted losing equipment operated by itself in this highly flammable region. .
“This is a dangerous and unprofessional act on the part of the Russians,” the senior officer stressed, adding that “U.S. and allied drones will continue to operate in international airspace,” and calling on Russians to “behave professionally”.
“Aggressive actions by Russian crews could lead to misunderstandings and unintended escalation,” the US military insisted in the same statement.
According to FlightRadar24, a P-8A Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft was circling off the coast of Romania after taking off from Sigonella Air Base, Italy.
In protest, the US State Department said it had summoned the Russian ambassador to Washington, while the US ambassador to Moscow sent a message to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“We are in direct contact with the Russians, at senior level, to convey to them our strong objection to this unsafe and unprofessional interception that caused our drone to go down,” the carrier told reporters. word of American diplomacy, Ned Price.
The Russian army, however, denied having caused the fall of the device, while acknowledging that two of its hunters had intercepted the American drone on Tuesday.
“As a result of a sharp maneuver […], the MQ-9 drone began an uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and struck the surface of the water,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, stating that his two fighters did not fire and had no “contact” with the drone.
The skies of the Black Sea are the scene of very regular interactions between drones and aircraft from NATO countries and the Russian armed forces, especially since the start of the war in Ukraine.
“With the current crisis, we have an increase in the number of reconnaissance vectors towards Crimea, with Reaper, which we did not have before. And depending on the situation, it can piss off the Russians. Especially since there have been Western [information] collection activities that participate in targeting for Ukraine, ”underlines a French expert on condition of anonymity.
Ukraine’s Western allies, who have been delivering arms to Kyiv since the start of the conflict to help it defend itself, are not directly involved on Ukrainian territory for fear of an escalation with Russian nuclear power.
Thus, “it is possible that the diplomatic channels mitigate the event”, had estimated earlier a Western military source.
The Reaper drone, manufactured by the American company General Atomics, is a remotely piloted aircraft of the MALE type (medium altitude long endurance), equipped with state-of-the-art on-board sensors to carry out surveillance operations at a cruising speed of 335 km/h.
With a wingspan of 20 meters, it has an autonomy of more than 24 hours of flight and can carry several types of armament. Its ground crew consists of 4 people.