On March 15, 2023, tensions between the United States and Russia escalated after Russian fighter jets brought down a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea. The U.S. has accused Russia of violating international law, while Russia denies the claim, stating that the drone maneuvered sharply and crashed into the water following an encounter with Russian fighter jets that had been scrambled to intercept it near Crimea.
The incident marks the first time since the Cold War that a U.S. aircraft was brought down after an encounter with a Russian warplane. The MQ-9 Reaper drone was conducting routine operations in international airspace when two Russian Su-27 fighter jets intercepted it. One of the Russian fighters struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing the U.S. forces to bring it down in international waters. Prior to that, the Su-27s flew in front of the drone several times in what the U.S. European Command called a “reckless, environmentally unsound, and unprofessional manner.”
The U.S. has summoned the Russian ambassador to lodge a protest according to the Associated Press, and the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, has made similar representations in Moscow. The incident has added to Russia-U.S. tensions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine, with the U.S. accusing Russia of violating international law.
The U.S. European Command warned that the incident follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea. It added that “these aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.”
Despite the incident, the U.S. emphasized that it will not be deterred from continuing its missions in the area. “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,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby. “We’re going to continue to fly and operate in international airspace over international waters. The Black Sea belongs to no one nation.”
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