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Russia says US relations are ‘lamentable’ after downing of American drone

The United States has strongly condemned the downing

Eric Garcia
Wednesday 15 March 2023 18:49 GMT
Russian fighter jet hitting American drone was 'reckless and unprofessional', US says

Russia’s relationship with the United States is in a “lamentable state”, the Kremlin has said, following the downing of a US drone harassed by Russian jets over the Black Sea.

The US military said that a Russian fighter plane had clipped the propeller of one of its drones as it flew over international waters. Russia denied that the downing was intentional, saying the crash happened because of “sharp manoeuvring”.

Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for the Kremlin, said that bilateral relations were “at their lowest point, in a very lamentable state”. However, he added “at the same time, Russia has never refused constructive dialogue, and is not refusing now”. Later, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the country’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and his US counterpart, the secretary of defence Lloyd Austin had spoken over the phone.

The US has condemned the downing of the drone on Tuesday. US Air Force General James B Hecker told CNN that two Russian Su-27 aircrafts performed a “reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional” set of manoeuvres that dumped fuel and damaged the propeller of a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone.

“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash,” Gen Hecker said. Both Russia and the United States have operated aircraft over the Black Sea, which borders Ukraine, ever since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

The secretary of Russia’s security council, Nikolai Patrushev, painted the incident as showing direct US involvement in the war in Ukraine, a line the Kremlin has repeatedly tried to push. “The Americans keep saying they’re not taking part in military operations. This is the latest confirmation that they are directly participating in these activities,” Mr Patrushev said.

Kyiv said the incident showed Moscow was willing to expand the conflict zone to draw in other countries. Russia was raising the stakes as it faced “conditions of a strategic defeat” in Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said.

Mr Patrushev said that Russia would like to recover the debris from the drone. “I don’t know if we can recover [it] or not, but we will certainly have to do that, and we will deal with it,” he said. “I certainly hope for success.” Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, claimed that Moscow has the technological capability to recover parts of the drone from the sea floor.

However, John Kirby, the spokesperson for the national security council, told CNN on Wednesday that the drone debris might not be salvageable.

“It has not been recovered. And I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to recover it,” Mr Kirby told CNN. “Where it fell into the Black Sea [is] very, very deep water. So we’re still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort. There may not be.”

Mr Kirby said US officials had told Russia’s ambassador Anatoly Antonov that the message was “Don't do this again”. Mr Kirby had previously told reporters in Washington that the incident “is noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was, indeed reckless that it was”.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price, speaking to MSNBC on Wednesday, said the incident was likely to have been an unintentional act by Russia.

The United States has thrown its support fully behind Ukraine since the war began and has provided Ukraine with $34bn in security aid since 2014. During the last Congress, Democratic majorities in the US House of Representatives and the Senate, aided by more establishment Republicans, poured money into supporting Ukraine.

But, since the Republicans took control of the US House of Representatives, there has been a vocal element of the party looking to reduce aid. Republican house speaker Kevin McCarthy has rebuffed an offer to visit Kyiv. Similarly, prospective presidential candidate and Florida governor Ron DeSantis called the war a “territorial dispute” and supporting Ukraine was not in the national interest.

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