US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has condemned Russia's "aggressive" actions after a US drone was shot down by Russian aircraft over the Black Sea on Tuesday. Speaking at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Wednesday, Austin vowed that US aircraft would continue to fly and operate "wherever international law allows." He urged Russia to act professionally and safely in its military aircraft operations. President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident by national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday. However, the US has not yet announced any action against Russia, suggesting a desire to avoid escalating the situation further. The downing of the drone marked the first time Russian and US military aircraft have made direct physical contact since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
Two Russian Su-27 aircraft intercepted the US MQ-9 Reaper drone on Tuesday, with one of them hitting the drone, causing it to land in international waters. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the Russian aircraft had flown near the drone for 30 to 40 minutes before the collision. The US has not yet recovered the drone, and two officials told CNN that sensitive software on the device was remotely erased before it crashed to prevent Russia from collecting secret information.
The mid-air encounter occurred approximately 45 miles southwest of the Crimean peninsula, with the MQ-9 landing approximately 70 miles southwest of Crimea after gliding away from the occupied territory. Russia has denied the US account of the incident, with Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov saying that Russia had "informed about this space that was identified as a zone for a special military operation." He also claimed that the MQ-9 had flown with its transponders off, violating the boundaries of the temporary airspace. On Wednesday, the Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said that Russia will attempt to retrieve the wreckage of the drone.
US Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley is expected to speak with his Russian counterpart on Wednesday. Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, described the incident as a "signal" of Putin's "readiness to expand the conflict zone with the involvement of other parties."
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