A Russian fighter jet intercepted a U.S. Air Force drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, U.S. officials confirmed, bringing down the U.S. aircraft.
President Biden was briefed Tuesday morning on the incident, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, calling it “unprofessional” and “unsafe.”
“It is not uncommon for there to be intercepts by Russian aircraft of U.S. aircraft over the Black Sea,” Kirby said. “And there have been, even in just recent weeks, there have been other intercepts. But this one obviously is noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was … in causing the downing of one of our aircraft.”
CNN reported that the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone was flying over international waters in the Black Sea flanked by two Russian jets when one of the jets flew in front of the drone and dumped fuel. One of the jets then damaged the propeller of the unmanned drone, forcing it to land in the Black Sea.
The incident takes place amid heightened tensions between Russia and the U.S., with the Biden administration imposing sanctions and seeking to isolate Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. has operated over the Black Sea for over a year, Kirby said, predating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s not uncommon for Russian intercepts of non-Russian aircraft over the Black Sea,” Kirby said. “I want to stress that this MQ-9 was operating in international airspace over international waters and posed a threat to nobody, and it was an unsafe and unprofessional intercept.”
The State Department planned to reach out to Russian officials to express its concerns, Kirby said, but it was unclear if it had already done so.
The U.S. would not be deterred from flying in international airspace and over international waters, including over the Black Sea, as a result of Tuesday’s incident, Kirby said.
The fallout from Tuesday’s incident will be closely watched, given the tensions between Washington and Moscow for the past year over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Moscow to slow its war effort and provided military and economic assistance to Ukraine, as have European allies. Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded by claiming support for Ukraine has amounted to aggression toward Moscow.
Washington and Moscow have attempted to keep lines of communication open during that time to avoid unnecessary escalation in conflict.
U.S. fighter jets in February intercepted Russian warplanes near Alaskan airspace twice in a two-day span. American officials said the activity was not seen as a threat or as provocative.
Updated 2 p.m.