The downing of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea, an act the Americans are blaming on a Russian fighter jet, appears to be an “isolated incident,” a former NATO commander and military analyst says.
The U.S. says a Russian jet struck the propeller of a MQ-9 surveillance drone operating within international air space on Tuesday, causing U.S. forces to bring it down in international waters.
Russia says the drone maneuvered sharply and crashed into the water after an encounter with Russian jets, which were scrambled to intercept the drone near Crimea.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price called the move a “brazen violation of international law.”
Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, responded to the incident saying, “We have to be very cautious regarding our actions, taking into account what is going on in (the) eastern part of Europe.”
“So you see that we prefer to not to create a situation where we can face unintended clashes or unintended incidents between the Russian Federation and the United States,” Antonov said.
Retired major-general David Fraser, who commanded NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, said based on the Russian ambassador’s comments, it appears the incident may have involved an inexperienced pilot whose actions escalated the situation at a political level.
“For the Russians to actually talk about restraint and not escalating things with this tit-for-tat type of activity that goes on all the time … the Russians have actually come out and said something else, which indicates that this was an isolated incident,” Fraser said.
The incident is believed to be the first time since the Cold War that a U.S. aircraft was brought down after encountering a Russian warplane.
The Associated Press reports that even before Russia’s war in Ukraine, NATO planes were involved in approximately 400 interceptions a year with Russian aircraft.
But the encounter comes amid heightened tensions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its second year.
The secretary of Russia’s Security Council said the country plans to search for the drone debris.
U.S. National Security Council communications co-ordinator John Kirby, meanwhile, told CNN that the U.S. has “taken steps to protect our equities with respect to that particular drone.”
“We obviously don’t want to see anybody getting their hands on it beyond us,” he said.
Meanwhile, the U.K. defence ministry says British and German air force fighter jets were scrambled Tuesday to intercept a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace. Both countries are conducting joint air policing missions in Estonia as part of an effort by NATO to bolster its eastern flank.
Fraser says the additional interception by the U.K. and Germany shows how everyone is on heightened alert.
“I suspect the airwaves behind the scenes are just burning up trying to tell everyone just to pull back a little bit,” Fraser said.
With files from The Associated Press and CNN
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