Russia has warned the United States to cease “hostile” activity near its border after the dramatic incident involving an American drone over the Black Sea.
Ukraine said Wednesday that the episode — the first known direct confrontation between the two superpowers since the war began last year — illustrated the Kremlin’s desire to expand the conflict.
A Russian fighter jet harassed and then collided with the propeller of an MQ-9 Reaper drone on Tuesday, forcing the U.S. to bring the drone down in international waters, the U.S. military said. Washington said it was a “brazen violation of international law” and summoned Moscow’s envoy to lodge a protest.
But Russia denied its planes came “into contact” with the drone and accused the U.S. of being to blame for conducting surveillance near its airspace to help Ukraine.
“We proceed from the fact that the United States will refrain from further speculations in the media landscape and stop making sorties near the Russian borders,” the country’s ambassador to the U.S. said after his meeting at the State Department. “We perceive any actions involving the use of American weapons and military equipment as openly hostile,” ambassador Anatoly Antonov said according to a statement published on the embassy’s Telegram on Wednesday.
Antonov insisted that the Russian fighter jets didn’t hit the American drone or use their weapons. He echoed earlier assertions from Moscow’s defense ministry, which said it had scrambled planes to intercept the drone after it intruded into an area near Crimea that Russia had declared off limits for the purposes of what it calls its “special military operation.”
“The unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders are cause for concern,” Antonov said. “They gather intelligence, which is subsequently used by the Kyiv regime to strike at our armed forces and territory.”
He added that Russia “does not seek confrontation.”
But the incident highlighted the growing tensions over the war in Ukraine, with the Kremlin eager to dissuade the U.S. from maintaining its support for Kyiv.
The clash was a sign of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “readiness to expand the conflict zone with the involvement of other parties,” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Twitter Wednesday. Putin was losing on the battlefield and so constantly raising the stakes “in the hope of a change in circumstances,” he said.
The U.K.’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, also called on Russia to respect international airspace.
“The key here is that all parties respect international air space and we urge the Russians to do so,” Wallace told Reuters at a defense show in Japan.
Two Russian Su-27 fighter jets had tracked the U.S. surveillance drone as it flew in international airspace over the Black Sea, which borders Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, among other countries, according to the U.S. European Command.
Before the collision, the jets “dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” it said in a statement.
The U.S. summoned Antonov to the State Department over the incident, spokesperson Ned Price told reporters Tuesday, to convey “strong objections” to this “unsafe unprofessional intercept.”
The Tuesday afternoon meeting between Antonov and the assistant secretary for Eurasian Affairs, Karen Donfried, lasted less than an hour, a senior State Department official said.
Two U.S. defense officials said the Russian jet that collided with the drone did not crash but instead landed in Crimea.
The officials said it is the first time they are aware of that a Russian jet has dropped fuel on a U.S. aircraft during an intercept.
The U.S. has wiped out the drone’s software and is considering its salvage options for the wreckage, but the Russians can reach whatever remains of the drone faster than a U.S. ship, the officials said. The U.S. would need to send a ship through the Bosporus from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea, while the Russians have ships in the Black Sea.
The Turks have resisted permission for U.S. and other warships to transit the strait in recent months, the officials said.
Aina J. Khan
Aina J. Khan is a freelance reporter with NBC News.
Courtney Kube, Mosheh Gains, Artem Grudinin and Reuters contributed.
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