US, Russian Military Chiefs Hold Emergency Deconfliction Call For 1st Time In Months
Update(1559ET): Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed in an afternoon press briefing that he spoke with his Russian counterpart Defense Secretary Sergei Shoigu - in the first such phone call since October - about Tuesday's drone incident over the Black Sea.
"I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, Minister Shoigu," Austin said of efforts at deconfliction, as both sides seek to underscore they're not looking for a fight. "As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s important that great powers be models of transparency and communication, and the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows."
But the Kremlin has said it has restricted some additional airspace over the Black Sea while conducting its 'special operation' in Ukraine. Thus the stage is set for possibly another dangerous intercept encounter such as this one which resulted in the crashing of a MQ-9 Reaper drone. Both sides have said they are seeking to recover the wreckage, but it reportedly crashed in a part of the sea that's very deep, making recovery unlikely.
Austin had also repeated the Biden administration talking point that it's President Zelensky alone who is ultimately making the decisions on execution of the war to push the Russians out. The number of times this has been repeated of late is getting awkward...
Defense Sec. Austin:— TheBlaze (@theblaze) March 15, 2023
“President Zelensky is fighting this fight, and he will make the calls on what’s important and what’s not important to his forces.” pic.twitter.com/O5la8eQ06o
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National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday it's unclear if the US military will be able to recover the wreckage of the crashed MQ-9 Reaper drone in the Black Sea as it fell in "very deep water".
But Moscow is now saying its navy will attempt to retrieve the wreckage first, and so the race is on - as AFP has emphasized. "Moscow said Wednesday it would try to retrieve the wreckage of a U.S. military drone that crashed over the Black Sea in a confrontation that Washington blamed on two Russian fighter jets," the report says based on Kremlin statements. Brief video purporting to show the intercept incident has also emerged via a well-known Russian military Telegram channel and is being widely circulated:
#MQ9 #drone View of the USAF 🇺🇸MQ-9 drone from the cockpit of the 🇷🇺Russian Su-27fighter via https://t.co/Revg9eulNz Thanks and h/t @qretaxyeta pic.twitter.com/7q8nvJTm6P— Capt(N) (@Capt_Navy) March 15, 2023
Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev made televised remarks on Tuesday's drone crash, saying Wednesday, "I don't know whether we'll be able to retrieve it or not but it has to be done. And we will certainly work on it."
Russia is further warning against future "hostile" US flights in its own backyard, while the Pentagon is vowing it will continue to operate in international airspace, which includes the Black Sea.
Both sides are leveling accusations of trying to draw the other into direct conflict, in what marks a dangerous escalation in rhetoric based on the very real drone encounter and close-call, given the pair of Russian jets had stopped just short of shooting down the MQ-9, which Washington would have seen as a direct act of war:
Patrushev said the incident was further proof that the United States is a direct party to fighting between Moscow and Kyiv and said Russia had a responsibility to "defend our independence and our sovereignty."
Russia's Defense Ministry said it had scrambled jets after detecting a U.S. drone over the Black Sea and denied causing the crash.
Even as the Kremlin says it's deploying assets to recover the drone, the Pentagon vows that it's working to prevent that:
Russia said the aircraft had lost control but White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. "obviously" refuted the denial.
He added the United States was trying to prevent the fallen drone from getting into the wrong hands. "We've taken steps to protect our equities with respect to that particular drone — that particular aircraft," Kirby told CNN.
So now we're witnessing rival superpowers deploying assets in the Black Sea not far from the fighting in Ukraine in a race to recover the advanced Reaper drone. If Moscow does recover it first, it's likely to prove a humiliation for the US, also as Russia will no doubt try to reverse-engineer and study the UAV - which designed and manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.