The Kremlin has warned the United States to cease “hostile” activity near its borders and said it would seek to retrieve the wreckage of the American drone that crashed into the Black Sea after a dramatic encounter with Russian fighter jets.
Kyiv said Wednesday that the incident — the first known direct confrontation between the two superpowers since Russia invaded Ukraine last year — illustrated the Kremlin’s desire to expand the conflict.
The U.S. military said a Russian fighter jet harassed and then collided with the propeller of the MQ-9 Reaper on Tuesday, forcing the U.S. to bring the drone down in international waters. Washington said it was a “brazen violation of international law” and summoned Moscow’s envoy to lodge a protest.
But Russia denied its planes came “into contact” with the drone and said the U.S. was to blame, accusing it of a provocation by conducting surveillance near Russian airspace to help Ukraine.
Russian authorities said Wednesday they hoped to recover the remains of the drone.
“I don’t know if we will be able to get it or not,” said Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, according to the state-run news agency Tass. But, he added, “we will definitely” work to do it. Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, also noted that his country has the capability to recover the drone’s fragments.
Earlier, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. said that Washington should “refrain from further speculations in the media landscape and stop making sorties near the Russian borders.”
Speaking after his meeting at the State Department, Anatoly Antonov said: “We perceive any actions involving the use of American weapons and military equipment as openly hostile,” according to a statement published on the embassy’s Telegram on Wednesday.
He insisted that the Kremlin’s fighter jets didn’t hit the American drone or use their weapons. He echoed earlier assertions from the Russian Defense Ministry, which said it had scrambled planes to intercept the drone after it intruded into an area near Crimea that Moscow had declared off limits for the purposes of what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
“The unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders are cause for concern,” Antonov said. “They gather intelligence, which is subsequently used by the Kyiv regime to strike at our armed forces and territory.”
He added that Russia “does not seek confrontation.”
But the incident highlighted the growing tensions over the war in Ukraine, with the Kremlin eager to dissuade the U.S. from maintaining its support for Kyiv.
The clash was a sign of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “readiness to expand the conflict zone with the involvement of other parties,” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Twitter on Wednesday. Putin was losing on the battlefield and so constantly raising the stakes “in the hope of a change in circumstances,” he said.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also called on Russia to respect international airspace.
“The key here is that all parties respect international airspace and we urge the Russians to do so,” he told Reuters at a defense show in Japan.
Two Russian Su-27 fighter jets had tracked the surveillance drone as it flew in international airspace over the Black Sea, which borders Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, among other countries, according to the U.S. European Command.
Before the collision, the jets “dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” it said in a statement.
The U.S. summoned Antonov to the State Department over the incident, spokesperson Ned Price told reporters Tuesday, to convey “strong objections” to this “unsafe unprofessional intercept.”
The meeting between Antonov and Karen Donfried, the assistant secretary for Eurasian affairs, lasted less than an hour, a senior State Department official said.
Two U.S. defense officials said the Russian jet that collided with the drone did not crash but instead landed in Crimea.
They said it is the first time they are aware of a Russian jet dropping fuel on a U.S. aircraft during an intercept.
The U.S. has wiped out the drone’s software and is considering its salvage options for the wreckage, but Russia can reach whatever remains of the drone faster than a U.S. ship, the officials said. The U.S. would need to send a ship through the Bosporus from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, while Russia has ships in the Black Sea.
Turkey has resisted permission for U.S. and other warships to transit the strait in recent months, they said.
Courtney Kube, Mosheh Gains, Artem Grudinin, Reuters and Associated Press contributed.