Last Tuesday, on March 14, a US drone crashed into the water around 100 km south of Crimea after two Russian Su-27 jet fighters intercepted it over the Black Sea.
The MQ-9 Reaper drone is valued at more than $30m, was equipped with high US spying technology, and was capable of striking military objectives.
There are two different versions of what happened:
• The US claims that the drone was flying over international waters in the Black Sea when two Russian jets approached and surrounded it for 35 minutes. Then, one of the Su-27 fighters “struck the propeller of the drone, causing US forces to have to bring it down in international waters”.
• Russia says that the drone crossed an area that was declared to all countries in the world as "off limits" because of the "special military operation in Ukraine". Moreover, Russia says that the drone had its transponders turned off, an equipment that allows an aircraft to be identified in the air.
Firstly, Russian defense ministry said the two fighter jets did not come into physical contact with the drone and instead it crashed because "it lost control when doing a bad maneuver". The US drone had gathered intelligence that was then used by Ukrainian forces to attack Russia, according to the Kremlin, that gave the green light to divert the US aircraft.
It is not clear if the collision was an accident or intentional, but US officials expressed publicly that "the best assessment right now is that it probably was unintentional, and was the result of profound incompetence on the part of one of these Russian pilots."
These kinds of encounters are quite common, as around 90% of US reconnaissance flights over the Black Sea are intercepted by Russian jets. However, this is the first time a collision has happened since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began one year ago.
Russia has confirmed that it is attempting to recover the drone, which may have sunk to depths of up to 1,500m below the surface: At least two Russian ships have been seen at the location where the drone crashed, but top US military generals said they had taken steps to prevent any sensitive data from falling into Russia's hands.
The US does not have any ships in the Black Sea, complicating the race of the search and recovery efforts, but government officials stated that they "have a lot of allies and friends in the area".
Bottom line, the US has said it was forced to crash the drone after a Russian fighter jet collided with it; whereas Russia has denied this, saying the drone caused its own failure. However, on Thursday morning, the Pentagon released a video of the incident, in which it is very clear that there was a physical contact between the Russian jet and the US drone. It is also true that the US drone was flying close to Crimea, an area that is technically a battlefield of the war in Ukraine.
Several European countries have expressed this week their intention of providing advanced military jets to Ukraine, to which the Kremlin said Russia will respond by destroying them. This could open the possibility of launching preemptive attacks on NATO soil.