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What Was US Doing Flying a Combat Drone Off Russia's Coast?

CC BY 2.0 / Cpl Steve Bain ABIPP / A RAF Reaper UAV
A RAF Reaper UAV - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.03.2023
Tuesday's crash of a US Air Force drone over the Black Sea raised fears of military escalation between the nuclear powers Russia and the US. International affairs and security analyst Mark Sleboda pointed out the MQ-9 Reaper was an armed UAV, flying near Russian territory.
A statement from the US European Command late on Tuesday alleged two Russian Su-27 jet fighters had intercepted a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea.
The statement claimed the drone, of the same model used in armed attacks on civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was on an "Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance" mission over "international waters."
It alleged that the Russian planes buzzed the drone, dumped fuel in its path and finally clipped its rear-mounted propeller, causing it to crash into the sea.
Mark Sleboda told Sputnik on Tuesday that the US military's protests over the incident glossed over the drone's offensive role.
"There's a big question of what the US is doing flying a Reaper drone in the Black Sea, which is a combat drone," Sleboda pointed out. "It is not an air intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance platform."
The Russian Ministry of Defence said the Reaper was detected near the Crimean Peninsula, which voted to reunite with Russia in 2014 after the Euromaidan coup d'etat in Ukraine.
The drone was flying "in the direction of the state border of the Russian Federation" with its identification transponders turned off, the MoD said, "violating the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation." It said the unmanned combat air vehicle lost control and crashed after making radical manoeuvres.

"The Russian aircraft did not use on-board weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle, and returned safely to their home airfield," the ministry clarified.

A bird flies past a Russian flag at the Embassy of Russia in Washington, DC on April 15, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.03.2023
Moscow Expects US to Stop Flights Near Russian Borders After Black Sea Incident
The analyst stressed that Ukraine had already launched a series of attacks on the Crimea with both aerial and underwater drones, provided by the US and UK and guided by intelligence gathered by those countries' surveillance aircraft.
"Numerous drone attacks that have been launched against Crimea in the past four weeks, all of which have been brought down through a combination of air defense, and Russia's excellent electronic warfare systems," Sleboda said. "But there is always a U.S. surveillance drone flying over the Black Sea coordinating these activities at the time."
He said that while Russia still acknowledges that the US is not "actively participating" in the attacks, it is telling the US: "We know what you're doing" and to "knock off the bull faeces."
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