U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke to his Russian counterpart Wednesday concerning a Russian military intercept that resulted in the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone Tuesday over the Black Sea.
“The United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows, and it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner,” Austin told reporters after announcing that he had “just got off the phone” with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
It was the first call between the two defense leaders since October, according to officials.
The downed U.S. MQ-9 drone was “conducting routine operations” in international airspace Tuesday, according to the U.S. military, when a pair of Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter aircraft "dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9.”
The military said one of the jets struck the U.S. drone’s propeller, causing U.S. forces to bring down the drone in international waters.
“We know that the intercept was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional. We also know it is very unprofessional and very unsafe,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Wednesday.
Milley said he was “not sure yet” whether the physical contact between the Russian aircraft and the drone was intentional.
Milley also said the U.S. has video evidence that shows the aggressive intercept. He also spoke with his Russian counterpart by phone later Wednesday about “several security-related issues of concern,” according to his spokesman. [VOA/JS ]
Russia said it is considering whether to try to retrieve the drone, but U.S. officials said its operatives were able to remotely erase sensitive software on the drone to prevent Russia from collecting secret information before sending the aircraft into the Black Sea.
The U.S. does not have ships in the Black Sea, which is largely controlled by Russia.
“But we do have a lot of allies and friends in the area, and we'll work through recovery operations. That's U.S. property,” Milley said. [ VOA/JS]