Yuriy Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force, stated that the US reconnaissance MQ-9 Reaper drone that was downed after colliding with a Russian bomber yesterday did not pose a threat to Russia in international airspace and that it has already been replaced with another drone.
Commenting to RFE/RL, Ihnat clarified that the Black Sea is not an internal sea of Russia, and NATO countries such as Türkiye have access to it. Therefore, surveillance can be conducted as desired in international airspace. He noted that Russians fly their bombers to the shores of Great Britain without being intercepted by fighter jets. In contrast, drones are used for reconnaissance, which is what they were designed for, and pose no threat.
Ignat explained that before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, US drones monitored the demarcation line between the Ukrainian-controlled regions and the Russian proxy Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics,” which have been occupied by Russian forces since 2014. NATO drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper drone and other drones such as RC-135, H10 Poseidon, and RQ-4 Global Hawk in Europe continue to carry out their missions in the Black Sea and monitor the battlefield in Ukraine.
Commenting to Ukrainska Pravda, Ihnat clarified that the current incident occurred in the international airspace southeast of Zmiinyi (Snake) Island. He added that the Russians have repeatedly publicly stated that they are annoyed by American reconnaissance aircraft in the Black Sea and Ukrainian airspace.
Meanwhile, speaking on air of Ukraine’s national telethon, Ihnat claimed that the US “immediately” replaced the fallen MQ-9 Reaper with another drone that continues its work.
On March 14, the US Air Force released a statement reporting that during interception over the Black Sea, a Russian Su-27 fighter had damaged an American MQ-9 Reaper drone, causing it to be lost at sea. John Kirby, the coordinator of communications for the US National Security Council, noted that although Russian intercepts of American planes over the Black Sea are not uncommon, Tuesday’s incident was unique due to the “dangerous, unprofessional, and reckless” actions taken by Russia.
The Russian Ministry of Defense denied responsibility for the incident, claiming that their Su-27 fighters were not involved and that the MQ-9 Reaper had flown close to Crimea while violating airspace regulations.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense has stated that it is working to declassify visual information related to the incident that occurred in international airspace over the Black Sea.
The United States has summoned the Russian ambassador to protest against the “reckless” behavior of two Russian Su-27 fighter pilots. The Pentagon stated that the interception of the MQ-9 Reaper drone occurred in international airspace.
According to Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, the Russian planes dumped fuel on the MQ-9, apparently trying to blind or damage it, and flew in front of the drone before one of the fighters touched the drone’s propeller.
Citing its sources, the New York Times reported that the drone was unarmed, although it can carry Hellfire missiles. According to the source, the drone took off from an airbase in Romania on the morning of 14 March for a routine reconnaissance mission that usually lasts about 9-10 hours.
“The episode stunned the US military, which watched it via video link from a drone in the operations center at Ramstein Air Base in Germany,” the newspaper writes.