The US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Mark Milley, has stated that the recovery of the MQ-9 Reaper drone that crashed in the Black Sea after being intercepted by Russian fighter jets would be challenging due to the deep waters in the area. The remains of the uncrewed drone sank in waters as deep as 1,219 to 1,524 meters (4,000 to 5,000 feet). Milley added that it would take several days before the US would know for certain the size of the debris field. Moscow, which denies that its jets were in physical contact with the drone, said it would try to retrieve the drone wreckage. US officials have confirmed that Russian ships have reached the crash site. The incident has raised concerns about a potential military escalation at a time of already fraught relations over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia’s Security Council Secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, told Rossiya-1 TV channel that Russia would attempt a recovery operation for the US spy drone. Milley said that the US had taken measures to ensure there would be no loss of sensitive intelligence if the drone were to be salvaged by Russia. Patrushev also said that the drone incident proved that the US was involved in the war in Ukraine. Moscow’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said that Washington deploying a drone thousands of kilometres from the US and near to Russia’s borders proved it was collecting intelligence for the Ukrainian army to help it carry out attacks on Russian forces. Ukrainian officials cautioned on Wednesday that the drone’s downing signalled Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intention to “expand the conflict”.
However, with US officials saying the Russian plane may have unintentionally collided with the drone and Moscow maintaining the jets did not interfere physically with the aircraft, it appeared both sides were focused on restraint and averting a military escalation. Milley said it was clear that the intercept and harassment of the drone by Russian jets was intentional but it was unclear whether the Russian aircraft deliberately made contact with the MQ-9 – a manoeuvre that could also put the Russian jet at risk. Earlier on Wednesday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the incident was likely unintentional. Milley also spoke with his Russian counterpart, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, in a rare phone call on Wednesday, but did not reveal details of their conversation. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, after the incident but did not reveal details of their conversation.