An unprecedented but not serious incident. Washington and Moscow exchanged accusations and warnings on Wednesday morning after a drone operated by the United States in the Black Sea was hit the day before by a Russian plane.
This is the first time that an American aircraft has been lost as a result of Russian air action in the context of the conflict in Ukraine, or even since the end of the Cold War. Symbolically strong but of a relative gravity however, since no human was on board and that Russia can argue that it did not fire ammunition, in order to accredit the story, however unlikely, of a accidental crash.
The drone had not entered Russian airspace either, which would have been an American provocation, but conversely its destruction over neutral waters led Washington to qualify this incident as a serious violation of the conventions. international. Moscow claims that the drone had violated “the area of the provisional airspace use regime established within the framework of ongoing military activities”.
The US military says its MQ-9 Reaper drone was performing routine operations in international airspace when a Sukhoi 27 dropped fuel over the drone before knowingly hitting its propeller. The Russian army denied having caused the fall of the aircraft, while acknowledging that two of its fighters had “intercepted”, a relatively routine action consisting of approaching an aircraft deemed hostile and ordering it to turn around but without physical interaction.
The Kremlin claims that the drone was detected in the area of the Crimean peninsula and was advancing towards the borders of Russia. He called on the United States to stop “hostile flights near its borders”.
“The aggressive actions of the Russian crews could lead to misunderstandings and an involuntary escalation”, replied the American army, from which one could deduce that in its eyes the matter can end there. In protest, the US State Department summoned the Russian ambassador to Washington.
The skies of the Black Sea are the scene of very regular interactions between drones and aircraft from NATO countries and the Russian armed forces. For its part, Ukraine on Wednesday accused Russia of seeking to extend the war in Ukraine to other parties.
The Reaper MQ-9 UAV can carry out long reconnaissance flights within a radius of 1,800 km, which was probably the case on Tuesday, but can also be armed with air-to-surface missiles. Several NATO countries have them, including France, which used them against jihadists in Mali.
The collection of intelligence, by satellite, drones or reconnaissance planes, is one of the keys to the ongoing conflict and from this point of view NATO has provided Kiev with valuable assistance to target Russian fuel and ammunition depots, or troop concentrations.
We have to go back to 2001 to find traces of an equivalent incident involving an American aircraft, when one of its spy planes operating in Chinese skies had to land in an emergency on the island of Hainan, where it had been captured, after being hit by a Chinese plane.