Briefly: A US reconnaissance drone crashed into the Black Sea after it was intercepted by two Russian fighter jets early on Tuesday morning. While the incident is not quite Top Gun material, it’s the first known contact between the Russian and US militaries since the start of the Russo-Ukraine War.
Finger (pistol) pointing: Unsurprisingly, we were treated to two contradictory accounts of the downing. The US accused Russia of conducting “reckless” aerial manoeuvres, including dumping oil on the drone, before colliding with it over international waters.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin insists the US aircraft was conducting “unacceptable” activity near occupied Crimea, and simply fell after attempting a sharp manoeuvre.
There could be consensus on one point: that the Russian jet didn’t deliberately down the US drone. One former US military leader said it was likely “just an overanxious pilot”. A current US official concurred, describing the incident as “amateur hour”.
Intrigue’s take: Two things come to mind here.
First, these US drone flights aren’t new. Nor are they unlawful. But Russia increasingly objects to their role in supplying Ukraine with intelligence. And we now have a window into Russia’s answer: limit the drones’ effectiveness (eg, by spraying them with oil) without provoking US escalation.
Second, the post-incident response on both sides offers some hope: the two defence ministers quickly spoke on the phone to de-escalate, and both the US and Russia emphasised they weren’t seeking confrontation.
Still, it was all a little close for comfort. And we doubt this’ll be the last encounter.
Also worth noting:
- There are reports the Russian Navy has already reached the crash site to try and recover the drone. The US was also reportedly exploring its retrieval options, though says it’s already remotely wiped the drone clean.
- The US State Department summoned the Russian ambassador on Tuesday to discuss the incident.