Austin says US will continue to fly drones over Black Sea, condemns Russian downing as ‘aggression’

(CNN) A day after the Russian flight, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pledged on Wednesday that US aircraft would “fly and operate where international law permits”. A US drone was shot down over the Black Sea, forcing it to drop into international waters.

“This fatal episode is part of a series of aggressive, dangerous and unsafe acts in international airspace,” Austin said at the start of a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Liaison Committee. “So make no mistake, the United States will continue to fly and operate wherever international law allows. And it is Russia’s duty to operate as a military aircraft in a safe and professional manner.”

Austin was the most senior administration official to directly address the incident when two Russian Su-27 fighter jets were intercepted on Tuesday. US MQ-9 Reaper drone. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan briefed President Joe Biden on the incident on Tuesday.

The downing of the drone marked the first time Russian and US military aircraft came into direct physical contact since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine. On Wednesday, a Kremlin spokesman said relations between Moscow and Washington were at a ‘low point’. However, the US has yet to announce any action against Russia over the incident, and the Biden administration says it hopes to avoid escalating matters further.

Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said Tuesday that a Russian plane flew near the drone for 30 to 40 minutes before one of the planes struck the MQ-9, causing the U.S. to bring the drone into the water.

National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby told “CNN This Morning” on Wednesday that the drone “hasn’t been recovered, and I’m not sure we can recover it,” but told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday that the U.S. It took steps to “protect our holdings in respect of the particular drone”.

Two U.S. officials told CNN that the U.S. destroyed critical software remotely before the drone went down to prevent Russia from gathering classified information.

Russia clarified on Wednesday that it was trying to recover the wreckage of the drone.

“I don’t know if we can get it or not, but we have to do it… and we will definitely look into it,” Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said on Russian state TV channel Rossiya 1.

According to a Navy official, the U.S. has no naval vessels in the Black Sea, which would make the U.S. rescue effort more difficult and time-consuming.

A US official said the mid-air encounter occurred about 45 miles southwest of the Crimean peninsula. The MQ-9 skidded off occupied territory and landed about 70 miles southwest of Crimea, the official added.

Russia has denied the United States’ account of the incident, with Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov saying on Tuesday that “Russia informed about this location identified as a zone of special military operations”. Antonov said the MQ-9 “flew beyond the boundaries of temporary airspace with its transponders on” and that the Russian aircraft did not communicate with it.

The Kremlin continued its defense On Wednesday, spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters to focus on the Defense Ministry’s statement, which “clearly states that no weapons were used, and there was no physical contact.”

Peskov said relations between the United States and Russia were “in a bad state” and were at a “low point” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been briefed on the incident.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council, described the incident as a “signal” of Putin’s “readiness to expand the conflict zone with the involvement of other parties”.

“The incident with the American MQ-9 Reaper UAV was triggered [R]Ussia is in the Black Sea [P]”Utin’s signal is ready to expand the conflict zone with the involvement of other parties,” he said. “The whole tactic is to keep raising rates in the hope of a strategic loss and the situation changing.”

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Katharina Krebs and Joe Shelley contributed reporting.

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