Ukraine update: US-Russia military leaders discuss drone incident; GOP lawmakers slam Biden over weak response

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


Tensions remain high between Washington and Moscow over the destruction of a U.S. drone that crashed when a Russian warplane struck its propeller.

U.S. and Russian military chiefs resumed contact Wednesday for the first time in months to discuss what some have called the closest direct conflict between the two powers since the Cold War. Meanwhile, a race is now underway to recover the debris of the high-tech U.S. Reaper drone from the Black Sea.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were relatively tight-lipped about discussions both had with their Russian counterparts Wednesday during a Pentagon press briefing on the matter

“We take any potential for escalation very seriously. And that’s why I believe it’s important to keep the lines of communication open,” Austin said following his call with Russian Defense Minister Sergei. “I think it’s really key that we’re able to pick up the phone and engage each other. And I think that that will help to prevent miscalculation going forward.”

Milley said that it was unclear whether the Russians deliberately struck the drone, though he said that the moments leading up to the crash were “intentional.”

The Pentagon, in a rare move, released declassified footage of the incident early on Thursday. The video shows a Russian Su-27 fighter approach the U.S. MQ-9 drone and attempt to dump fuel on it in what U.S. officials said was an attempt to damage the American aircraft as it flew over international airspace over the Black Sea.

The footage also shows the loss of the video feed following another close Russian maneuver, which the Pentagon said was the moment one of two Russian fighter jets clipped the drone’s propeller.

Moscow has denied striking the drone, saying instead that the crash was occasioned by the MQ-9’s “sharp maneuvers.” Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. accused Washington of flying “sorties” near Russian airspace.


The Pentagon said Tuesday that it had little choice but to crash the $32 million MQ-9 high-tech drone into the Black Sea because the damaged propeller rendered it unflyable. Officials, however, did not say whether any effort would be made to recover the debris. 

Milley downplayed the news that Russia had sent in teams to try to recover the drone, saying: “It probably broke up. There’s probably not a lot to recover.” U.S. officials have refused to detail what steps have been or will be taken to protect sensitive technology on the drone, though Milley said officials were “quite confident that whatever was of value is no longer of value.”


Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have accused the Biden administration of projecting weakness in its milquetoast response to Russia’s bold provocation.

Warhawk Sen. Linsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the United States should hold Russia “accountable” during an appearance on Fox’s Hannity Tuesday. Graham argued that instead of giving Moscow an out by equivocating on the intentionality of the incident, the administration should have advised Russia “that if you ever get near another U.S. asset flying in international waters, your airplane will be shot down.”

“What would Ronald Reagan do right now?” Graham asked. “He would start shooting Russian planes down if they were threatening our assets.”

“Weakness breeds provocation,” Graham continued.

Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), a member of the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and intelligence committees, told Hannity: “We should be putting three drones back in there to replace this one and sending a very clear message to Russia, this was over international waters.

“They don’t get to decide where the United States sends our aircraft, sends our ships, or who we decide, or how we decide to defend it.”


Graham said America’s enemies were emboldened by the disastrous 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan:

“When Biden got into power, he pulled out of Afghanistan. And that set everything else in motion,” he said, referring to Biden as “the Rodney Dangerfield of world leaders.”

“Nobody respects you,” he added.

“Do you believe for one minute that Russia would have invaded Ukraine if Donald Trump was president of the United States?” Graham asked. “There is no fear of Joe Biden. His policies are not working. We’re being walked on. We’re being crapped on. And we’re about to have a major war because China is sizing up Biden, and they’re going to go into Taiwan if we don’t up our game.”

Graham said he’s “never been more worried about world stability” than he is right now.


Waltz pointed out that prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden voluntarily pulled U.S. ships and aircraft out of the Black Sea. 

“Putin believes he has an opportunity to force our drones out as well because they smell weakness in the White House,” he said, voicing agreement with Graham’s assessment that Russia’s aggression would have been dealt with much differently by Biden’s predecessor. 

“Again, to Senator Graham’s point, what did Trump do with Iran when they attacked international shipping, when they attacked Saudi oil refiners? When they shot down one of our drones, if we remember that, and then attacked our embassy? He took out their field general, sent a clear message, and then it all stopped,” Waltz said. “That’s how you restore deterrence. That’s how you restore strength. And that’s how we keep the peace.”

Waltz warned that the U.S. is heading down “a very slippery slope” toward world chaos, noting significantly ramped-up threats the U.S. now faces from Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, and Venezuela.

“We can have the most powerful, capable military in the world but if our adversaries don’t believe we have the political will to use it, then they’re going to take advantage of us,” Waltz said, adding: “And right now, they’re on the march.”


Russia has imposed travel restrictions barring Kremlin officials from international flights, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense said Wednesday in its daily assessment of the war.

The Ministry said the tightened measures are “likely designed to prevent the flight or defection of increasingly disaffected officials.”

“Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian public officials and workers have been subject to increasingly severe foreign travel restrictions. Some officials have likely had to forfeit their passports to the Federal Security Service,” the report noted.

This article was informed by Reuters, The Associated Press, Axios, The Washington Examiner, and CNS News reports.