The U.S. has denied a Russian claim that an American MQ-9 Reaper drone that was downed over the Black Sea on March 14 could have been involved in preparations for a strike on the Russian Black Sea port of Tuapse, calling the allegations “ridiculous.”
On Tuesday, Russian online newspaper Mash cited anonymous sources in a report as saying that the drone could have been carrying out surveillance prior to an attack on the port, which is located near to the Russian naval base in Novorossiysk.
“An American drone that was shot down in the sky over the Black Sea could have been involved in preparing an attack on the port of Tuapse,” Mash reported. “According to our information, the MQ-9 Reaper was scouting the situation so that [Ukrainian forces] could strike with sea and air drones.”
When contacted by Newsweek for comment, the State Department said the allegations are “ridiculous.”
“These claims are completely ridiculous and have ZERO basis in fact or truth. To be clear, we categorically deny them,” a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek.
The spokesperson said that the U.S. Reaper drone “was lawfully operating in international airspace over the Black Sea.”
The drone collided with a Russian Su-27 fighter jet and crashed into the sea, marking the first known direct military encounter between Washington and Moscow since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Both sides have blamed each other for the collision, providing conflicting accounts. The Pentagon has said that the aircraft dumped fuel on the drone, which was in international airspace conducting a routine surveillance mission. Russia has said the drone had “deliberately and provocatively” approached Russian air space.
“The Black Sea is a critical international seaway supporting many of our NATO Allies, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. It does not belong to any one country,” the State Department spokesperson said.
“We have routinely operated in the Black Sea before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in accordance with laws governing international airspace, and we will continue to operate in the Black Sea region in the future,” the spokesperson added.
The Kremlin has yet to comment on the reports.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said U.S. drone flights over the Black Sea are a sign of direct U.S. involvement in conflict with Russia.
“It is quite obvious what these drones are doing, and their mission is not at all a peaceful mission to ensure the safety of shipping in international waters,” Peskov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying on Sunday.
Tuapse came under attack in the early hours of February 28 when a Ukrainian drone strike caused a loud explosion at the port, a major oil terminal located south of the Russian naval base at Novorossiysk and north of the city of Sochi.
Newsweek has reached out to Russia’s foreign ministry via email for comment.
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