The Russian military has claimed that a U.S. drone that crashed over the Black Sea downed itself following “sharp maneuvering.”
The U.S. Air Force said on Tuesday that two “reckless” Russian fighter pilots forced the MQ-9 “Reaper” drone to plummet into the Black Sea after colliding with it over international waters. A short time later, Russia’s Ministry of Defense offered its own explanation, claiming that the U.S. was entirely at fault for the drone’s destruction.
A statement from the ministry said that the drone had “violated” airspace by flying toward the Russian-occupied territory of Crimea with its transponders turned off. Russian jets were then sent to “identify the violator” but did not use weapons or make contact with the U.S. aircraft, according to the ministry.
“As a result of sharp maneuvering around 9.30 (Moscow time), the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle went into an uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface,” the statement says.
“The Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle and returned safely to the home airfield,” it continues.
In sharp contrast to Russia’s explanation, the U.S. military said that the drone was forced down after two Russian Su-27 jets “conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept” over international waters, following “a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots” in international airspace.
The U.S. says that the Russian jets “dumped fuel on and flew in front of” the unmanned vehicle, which had been conducting “routine operations.” A jet apparently then made contact with and damaged the drone’s propeller, forcing operators to ditch it into the Black Sea.
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash,” U.S. Air Force General James B. Hecker said in a statement. “U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely.”
National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby told reporters that the incident was “unique” in “how unsafe and unprofessional, indeed how reckless it was.” He also said that the drone crash would not stop the U.S. from flying similar missions “in international airspace over international waters.”
“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, because that is not going to happen,” Kirby said.
“The Black Sea belongs to no one nation, and we are going to continue to do what we need to do for our own national security interests in that part of the world,” he added.
The Pentagon declined comment when asked about the Russian military’s statement explaining the incident.
Newsweek has reached out to the White House via email for comment.
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