Row erupts as US says Russian jet 'recklessly' collided with its drone, forcing it to crash over Black Sea
A diplomatic row has erupted between Washington and Moscow after US forces accused a Russian jet of "recklessly" colliding with one of its drones, causing it to crash into the Black Sea.
Russia denied involvement, with a senior figure describing the episode as a "provocation".
The incident has demonstrated the increasing risk of a direct confrontation between the two superpowers because of the Ukraine war.
Ukraine war latest - Was drone interception a provocation?
The American military said two Russian Su-27 jets intercepted the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone in international airspace before one of them struck the aircraft's propeller, causing US forces to have to bring it down.
US European Command said the Su-27s flew in front of the MQ-9 and dumped fuel on it possibly to damage the aircraft before the collision in "a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner".
It warned the "aggressive actions" by Russian aircrew were "dangerous" and could lead to miscalculation and "unintended escalation". The incident followed a "pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots", the command added.
The drone was on a routine flight in accordance with international laws to bolster collective European defence and security, the command said.
US Air Force General James Hecker described what happened as an "unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians", which has led to the complete loss of an MQ-9.
Russian ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov was quoted by the RIA state news agency as saying: "We view this incident as a provocation," after being summoned by the US State Department.
He said Russia does not want any confrontation with the US, adding that despite the difference in the remarks made by the two countries concerning the drone crash, talks had been constructive.
The defence ministry in Moscow insisted the warplanes did not come into contact with the drone, claiming it crashed due to "sharp manoeuvring", leading to a loss of altitude.
"The Russian fighters did not use their onboard weapons, did not come into contact with the UAV and returned safely to their home airfield," the ministry said.
The drone was flying towards the Russian border with its transponders - wireless communication devices - turned off, the ministry added.
And it claimed Russian fighters were in the area to identify the object.
White House spokesman John Kirby described the incident as "unique" in the fact that it led to the downing of a US aircraft.
The US will continue to fly and operate over the Black Sea, according to Mr Kirby, who said that they do not need to check with the Russians when they do, as it is over international waters.
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