A Russian fighter jet hit the propeller of a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, according to the U.S. European Command.
The incident occurred as two Russian Su-27 fighter jets intercepted the drone, which was operating within international airspace, causing it to crash in international waters.
U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, commented on the incident by saying, “This unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash. The U.S. aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9.”
The Russian Defense Ministry, however, disputed the U.S. account and claimed that the drone went into unguided flight and crashed into the water following a sharp maneuver. Russia also argued that the drone was flying over an area near Crimea that was declared off-limits by Russia as part of its "special military operation" in Ukraine.
Russian Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov responded to the incident by accusing the U.S. of engaging in provocative behavior by stating, "The American drone flight was a provocation. It is necessary to stop such actions, which lead to dangerous incidents. There was no reason for American military aircraft and warships to be near Russia's borders."
The incident was the first time since the height of the Cold War that a U.S. aircraft was brought down after an encounter with a Russian warplane. Both the U.S. and Russian officials have summoned each other's ambassadors to lodge protests, while the U.S. has emphasized that the incident would not deter it from continuing its missions in the area.
[With information from the Associated Press]