- A Russian fighter jet clipped a US military drone operating over the Black Sea on Tuesday.
- US European Command said the incident forced the MQ-9 Reaper drone to crash.
- It's the latest aggressive maneuver by Russian forces against NATO members in eastern Europe.
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A Russian fighter jet clipped a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone operating over the Black Sea on Tuesday, forcing the American aircraft to crash into the water below, US European Command said.
Two Russian Su-27 jets carried out an "unsafe and unprofessional intercept" of the drone as it was flying in international airspace, EUCOM said in a statement. The two Russian aircraft dumped fuel on and flew in front of the drone several times before one of the Su-27s struck the Reaper's propeller shortly after 7 am local time. When the Russian plane clipped the drone, the US military was forced to bring the aircraft down in international waters.
EUCOM criticized the incident as "reckless, environmentally unsound, and unprofessional" and said it demonstrates a "lack of competence" from Russian forces.
"Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9," said US Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, in the statement. "In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash."
"US and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely," he continued.
Tuesday's incident marks the most direct confrontation between US and Russian forces since the start of the war in Ukraine and the latest provocative action by Russian forces against NATO members around the Black Sea, where intercepts are not uncommon. There have been numerous close encounters and aggressive maneuvers against NATO militaries in recent years, amid increasing tensions between Moscow and the West even before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
As recently as October, a Russian jet released a missile near a UK Royal Air Force reconnaissance plane on a patrol mission. Moscow blamed the incident on a technical issue. It was not the first time a fighter jet operating in eastern Europe accidentally fired a missile when it wasn't supposed to.
Over the years, Russian aircraft have also repeatedly buzzed NATO warships in the Black Sea.
EUCOM said on Tuesday that Russia's "aggressive" actions risked accidental escalation or a miscalculation, adding that US forces routinely operate aircraft around Europe in both international airspace and over the sovereign territory of partner nations.
The crash comes as the relationship between Washington and Moscow remains strained over the Kremlin's unprovoked war against Ukraine, which recently eclipsed the one-year mark and shows no signs of slowing down as casualties continue to mount on both sides.