Russian downing of US drone ‘unprofessional’, says UK defence secretary | Ben Wallace

The UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, accused Russia of acting “unprofessionally” in an incident that led to the downing of a $32m US Reaper drone in the Black Sea after it was harassed by two Russian fighter jets.

The comments, made while the minister was visiting Japan, reflect an emerging western view that the extraordinary mid-air incident was a one-off, not immediately meriting anything stronger than diplomatic complaints.

“The Americans have said they think it was very unprofessional,” Wallace said as he was filmed walking around a defence industry conference. “The key here is that all parties respect international airspace; we urge the Russians to do so.”

It is common for Russian jets to harass western military planes flying over neutral airspace by flying at an unsafe, close distance, but the presumption is that on this occasion, one of Moscow’s pilots miscalculated – and struck a propeller on the Reaper.

The incident took place on Tuesday when two Su-27 Flanker jets buzzed an uncrewed US Reaper drone operating over the Black Sea. The US said its propeller was hit, “causing US forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters”.

‘Unsafe, unprofessional’: US grounds drone after collision with Russian jet, says Pentagon – video

The Russian jets, the US said, “dumped fuel on and flew in front of” the Reaper drone in a reckless manner – a high-risk harassment tactic that analysts said on Tuesday had not been used by Moscow’s air force before.

Overnight, a US air force official told ABC News the incident lasted at least half an hour, with the two Russian jets buzzing close to the drone 19 times, spraying jet fuel on the last three or four times. The collision happened at the end, when one of the Su-27s approached the Reaper at speed from behind, colliding as it pulled up.

The drone went down near the waters of Snake Island, near Ukraine and Romania, Kyiv said. It is unclear if the US or any of its Nato will attempt to retrieve it to ensure it does not fall into Moscow’s hands, although its location may not be favourable to the Kremlin.

The US did not immediately say what kind of mission the Reaper had been undertaking, but it is likely that it was conducting long-distance surveillance of Ukraine and the war. The size of a small aircraft, with a 20-metre wingspan, it can fly at an altitude of up to 50,000ft (15km) and has a range of about 1,400 nautical miles.


Russia’s ministry of defence said it had detected that the Reaper was flying near occupied Crimea “in the direction of the state border” and said its jets “did not use onboard weapons” and “did not come into contact with” the drone.

Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was summoned to the US state department following the incident. After the meeting last night, he accused the US of mounting “a provocation” but emhasised that “we do not want any confrontation between the United States and Russia”.

On Wednesday, the Kremlin added there had been no high-level contact with Washington over the incident, and its spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, complained that relations between Russia and the US were in a “lamentable state”.

The US has been supplying Ukraine with arms, along with most of the west, after Russia’s invasion in February last year. But Washington and other Nato allies have been keen to ensure they do not directly join the fighting, and want to contain any overspill from the conflict.

Ukraine said the incident showed Russia was trying to increase the stakes in the 13-month-long war.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, tweeted: “The incident with the American MQ-9 Reaper UAV, provoked by Russia in the Black Sea, is Putin’s signal of readiness to expand the conflict zone with the involvement of other parties.”

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