Drone flights will go on, says US, as tensions flare up with Russia
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday the country would continue to conduct surveillance flights after an American reconnaissance drone was struck by a Russian warplane and downed over the Black Sea.
“Make no mistake, the US will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows,” Austin said in remarks at the beginning of a virtual meeting of some 50 nations supporting Ukraine’s efforts in the war against Russia.
“This hazardous episode is apart of a pattern of aggressive and risky, and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace,” Austin said. “It is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner. ” The incident, the first known physical contact between the Russian and US militaries since the war in Ukraine began, has raised tensions between the superpowers. US and Ukraine have said that the unarmed American MQ-9 Reaper drone was flying in international air space on a routine surveillance and reconnaissance mission.
The Pentagon accused Moscow of recklessness, saying Russian planes had dumped fuel on the American drone on Tuesday before one then clipped the drone’s propeller and caused its US operators to bring it down in the Black Sea. Ukrainian officials said that the drone crashed in waters to the southeast of Snake Island, around 48km off the Ukrainian coast.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said the incident was “(President) Putin’s signal of readiness to expand the conflict zone with the involvement of other parties. ”
Russia denied that its plane had hit the drone and demanded an end to US military flights near its territory. “I want to emphasise that the Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle and safely returned to their base airfield,” Lt Gen Igor Konashenkov, the Russian defence ministry’s chief spokesman, said on Wednesday.
He said that the drone had been flying “in the direction” of Russia’s border and that the fighter jets were dispatched “in order to identify the intruder. ”
Moscow told Washington on Wednesday to keep well away from its air space. “The unacceptable activity of the US military in the close proximity to our borders is a cause for concern,” Russia’s ambassador Anatoly Antonov said, accusing Washington of using drones to “gather intelligence which is subsequently used by the Kyiv regime to strike at our armed forces and territory”.
“Let us ask a rhetorical question: if, for example, a Russian strike drone appeared near New York or San Francisco, how would the US air force and navy react?” he said, calling on Washington to “stop making sorties near the Russian borders”. The reaction on state media in Russia was largely muted, but some politicians sought to portray the episode as evidence that the US was in direct confrontation with Moscow. Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian parliament’s committee on international affairs, said in an interview with Tass, the Russian state news agency, that it “once again proves the involvement of the United States in the Ukrainian conflict”.
Meanwhile, British defence secretary Ben Wallace urgedMoscow to respect international airspace. “The key is that all parties respect international air space and we urge the Russians to do so. ”Article Source