By Zachary Stieber
A Russian fighter jet hit a U.S. drone over the Black Sea on March 14, U.S. officials said.
A Russian Su-27 aircraft “struck the propeller” of the drone, the U.S. European Command said in a statement.
The impact forced U.S. personnel to bring the drone, an unmanned MQ-9 model, down in international waters.
The drone was “conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said in a statement.
Before the collision, two Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the drone in a “reckless environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” the statement said, adding that the incident “demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional.”
“U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely,” Hecker said.
U.S. officials said the latest incident was part of a pattern of “dangerous actions” by Russian pilots over international airspace, warning the “aggressive actions … could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.”
White House spokesman John Kirby said the incident on Tuesday was noteworthy because it was “unsafe and unprofessional.” U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed about the incident, Kirby added.
Russia’s defense ministry denied that its aircraft had come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which it said had crashed after “sharp maneuvering.” It said the drone had been detected near the Crimea peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
“The Russian fighters did not use their onboard weapons, did not come into contact with the UAV and returned safely to their home airfield,” the defense ministry said.
Moscow’s ambassador to Washington said his country “views this incident as a provocation.”
Anatoly Antonov, the ambassador, was summoned by the U.S. State Department to discuss what happened over the Black Sea, said spokesperson Ned Price.
Antonov said his meeting was “constructive” and the issue of possible “consequences” for Moscow was not raised, RIA state news agency reported.
“As for us, we do not want any confrontation between the United States and Russia. We are in favor of building pragmatic relations for the benefit of the Russian and American peoples,” Antonov was quoted as saying.
Reuters contributed to this report.