Russia denies its fighter jets struck U.S. drone over Black Sea

A Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday in a "brazen violation of international law," causing American forces to bring down the unmanned aerial vehicle, the U.S. said.

U.S. says it downed its own drone after propeller was struck by Russian warplane

Fighter jets are seen deployed.
Russian Su-27 jet fighters fly outside Moscow in August 2011. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

A Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday in a "brazen violation of international law," causing American forces to bring down the unmanned aerial vehicle, the U.S. said.

But Moscow says the drone manoeuvred sharply and crashed into the water following an encounter with its jets — which were scrambled to intercept it near Crimea — insisting its warplanes didn't fire their weapons or hit the drone.

"The U.S. drone went into uncontrollable flight with a loss of altitude" and fell into the water, said Russia's Defence Ministry. 

The incident has raised tensions over Russia's war in Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on the encounter by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to White House national security spokesperson John Kirby. He added that State Department officials would be speaking directly with their Russian counterparts and "expressing our concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional intercept."

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. will lodge a protest with the Russian ambassador and that and the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, has made similar representations in Moscow.

A drone is seen in a hangar.
An MQ-9 drone is seen in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., in November 2022. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The U.S. European Command said earlier in a statement that two Russian Su-27 fighter jets "conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept" of a U.S. MQ-9 drone that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea.

It said one of the Russian fighters "struck the propeller" of the MQ-9, after which U.S. forces intentionally brought it down in international waters. 

Prior to that, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 several times before the collision in "a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner," the U.S. European Command said in a statement from Stuttgart, Germany.

WATCH | U.S. drone clipped by Russian fighter jet, U.S. says: 

U.S. says Russian jet forced its surveillance drone to crash

3 months ago
Duration 2:42
The U.S. says it was forced to crash its own surveillance drone after it was clipped by a Russian fighter jet, the first time military aircraft from the two superpowers have come into contact since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For its part, Russia denied having contact with the drone.

Moscow has repeatedly voiced concern about U.S. intelligence flights close to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014. 

The Kremlin has charged that by providing weapons to Ukraine and sharing intelligence information with Kyiv, the U.S. and its allies have effectively become engaged in the conflict.

Kirby emphasized that the incident wouldn't deter the U.S. from continuing its missions in the area.

WATCH | Putin, Biden give duelling speeches about Ukraine: 

Putin, Biden give duelling speeches on state of war in Ukraine

3 months ago
Duration 2:36
Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of igniting war in Ukraine and threatened to pull out of a nuclear treaty, while U.S. President Joe Biden promised Russia would never experience victory in Ukraine.

"If the message is that they want to deter or dissuade us from flying and operating in international airspace, over the Black Sea, then that message will fail," Kirby said. "That is not going to happen."

"We're going to continue to fly and operate in international airspace over international waters," he said. "The Black Sea belongs to no one nation."

Dangerous pattern

The U.S. European Command said Tuesday's incident followed a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea.

"These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation," it warned.

Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, said that such collisions are his greatest concern, both in that area of Europe and in the Pacific.

"Probably my biggest worry both there and in the Pacific is an aggressive Russia or China pilot or vessel captain, or something gets too close, doesn't realize where they are, and causes a collision," Berger said, in response to a question at a National Press Club event on Tuesday.

He said that whether an incident is intentional or not, it forces a nation's leaders to try to sort it out quickly from afar.