US, Russian defense ministers discuss Black Sea drone incident

16 March, 01:11 AM
Lloyd Austin (Photo:Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS)

Lloyd Austin (Photo:Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu discussed the recent incident involving Russian fighter jet colliding with U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea, the Pentagon said in a press release on March 15.

During a press briefing on the same day, Austin said he advised Shoigu to operate military aircraft "safely and professionally." He did not reveal any details of the conversation.

“We take any possibility of escalation very seriously, and so I consider it important to keep lines of communication open,” Austin said.

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The head of U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, noted that Russian aircraft intentionally intercepted the U.S. drone, adding that defense officials are not convinced the “physical contact” with UAV was deliberate.

Milley also confirmed that he is scheduled to speak with the Chief of Russia’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov.

Two unnamed U.S. officials told CNN that the Air Force operators erased all sensitive software from the drone remotely before it crashed into the sea, meaning that Russia won’t be able to glean any valuable intelligence even if it manages to salvage the wreck from the seabed.

On March 14, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said that the United States took measures to protect “equities” associated with the drone.

“Without getting into too much detail, what I can say is that we've taken steps to protect our equities with respect to that particular drone — that particular aircraft,” said Kirby.

The European Command of the U.S. Armed Forces reported that on the morning of March 14, two Russian Su-27 aircraft made a dangerous intercept of the MQ-9 Reaper drone, which was performing a routine reconnaissance flight in international airspace over the Black Sea. One Su-27 collided with the MQ-9 propeller and the U.S. military was forced to bring it down into the sea.

Following the incident, the State Department summoned the Russian ambassador. According to the Pentagon, the Su-27 fighter was likely also damaged in the collision. The U.S. Air Force took steps to keep the MQ-9 Reaper out of “the wrong hands” and “minimized any intelligence value.”

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