Chris Lange, FISM News
Moscow warned Washington on Wednesday to steer clear of its air space after two Russian warplanes intercepted and downed a U.S. surveillance drone in the Black Sea.
The U.S. military said Tuesday that two Russian Su-27 fighter jets poured fuel on the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone before one of the jets clipped its propeller, causing the unmanned craft to plunge into the sea. President Joe Biden was briefed immediately on the incident while the Pentagon warned of the risk of “escalation.”
Initial reports coming out of the U.S. and Europe yesterday described the drone downing as the first hostile direct contact incident between the U.S. and Russia since the height of the Cold War. However, the White House revealed on Tuesday that there had been “other intercepts” of U.S. aircraft by Russian warplanes in recent weeks.
“It is not uncommon for there to be intercepts by Russian aircraft of U.S. aircraft over the Black Sea, and so this is not an uncommon occurrence,” John Kirby, White House National Security Council director of strategic communications, told reporters Tuesday. “And there have been even in just recent weeks, there have been other intercepts.”
According to the New York Times, Kirby said that Tuesday’s collision was “unique” because it was the first to result “in the splashing of one of our drones,” calling the Russians’ behavior “unsafe and unprofessional.”
Moscow denied having any role in the downed aircraft, which it said crashed as a result of its own “sharp maneuvers.”
The U.S. Air Forces in Europe warned that Russia’s “aggressive actions … could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.”
KREMLIN SAYS RUSSIA-US RELATIONS IN ‘LAMENTABLE STATE’
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that relations with the United States were in a “lamentable state” and at their lowest level following Washington’s accusations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters there had been no high-level contact with Washington over the incident, and that he had nothing to add to a statement issued by Russia’s Defense Ministry.
Peskov also noted that Russian-U.S. relations are now “at their lowest point, in a very lamentable state” but added that, “at the same time, Russia has never refused constructive dialogue, and is not refusing now.”
On Tuesday night, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. accused Washington of “provocation” after he was summoned to a meeting by the State Department. In a statement that appeared to contradict Moscow’s denial of intentionally downing the MQ-9, Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said: “The American UAV deliberately and provocatively was moving towards Russian territory with transponders turned off.”
“The unacceptable activity of the U.S. military in the close proximity to our borders is a cause for concern,” he continued. “They gather intelligence, which is subsequently used by the Kyiv regime to strike at our armed forces and territory.”
“Let us ask a rhetorical question: if, for example, a Russian strike drone appeared near New York or San Francisco, how would the U.S. Air Force and Navy react?” Antonov said, calling on Washington to “stop making sorties near the Russian borders”.
The United States conducts regular surveillance flights in international air space in the region, according to the Pentagon.
The 36-foot, $32 million Reaper drone has a wingspan of 66 feet and is capable of carrying a payload of up to 3,750 pounds. The MQ-9 had been on a reconnaissance mission over international waters at the time of the incident.
ZELENSKYY DOUBLES DOWN ON PLEDGE TO HOLD BAKHMUT
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy doubled down on his commitment to continue the fight to maintain control of Bakhmut in what has been described as the bloodiest infantry battle since World War Two, with enormous casualties on both sides.
Zelenskyy said in a Tuesday night video address that Bakhmut remains the main focus of Ukraine’s forces following his meeting with top military brass.
“There was a clear position of the entire command: Strengthen this sector and destroy the occupiers to the maximum,” Zelenskyy said.
Kyiv had signaled last month that it was preparing a “strategic withdrawal” of its troops from the small city in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region. In an apparent about-face, however, Zelenskyy vowed to continue defending Bakhmut days later.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said the fight to hold Bakhmut is important because a “large amount of enemy material is being destroyed … A huge number of troops are being killed and as of today, the enemy’s capacity to advance is being reduced.”
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Reuters reported that the front lines have scarcely budged in the past four months.
“Russia’s assaults have largely failed across most of the front line, apart from Bakhmut where it has captured the east of the city and advanced north and south as it tries to encircle it,” Reuters stated.
THREE UKRAINIAN GOVERNORS DISMISSED IN LATEST SHAKEUP
President Zelenskyy sacked three regional governors Tuesday. Zelenskyy did not offer a reason for ousting the governors of Khmelnytskyi, Luhansk, and Odessa — the latest shakeup in Ukrainian leadership that began in January with multiple dismissals that exposed widespread corruption.