US and Russian military chiefs in rare talks over downed drone

US and Russian military chiefs in rare talks over downed drone

WASHINGTON/KYIV--Washington's top general said the crash of a U.S. surveillance drone after being intercepted by Russian jets showed Moscow's increasingly aggressive behaviour while Russia warned Washington that flying drones near Crimea risked escalation.

A day after the U.S. drone went down over the Black Sea, defence ministers and military chiefs from the U.S. and Russia held rare telephone conversations on Wednesday with relations at their lowest point in decades over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told his U.S. counterpart, Lloyd Austin, that American drone flights by Crimea's coast "were provocative in nature" and could lead to "an escalation ... in the Black Sea zone," a ministry statement said.
Russia, the statement said, "had no interest in such a development but will in future react in due proportion". Crimea is a peninsula that was part of Ukraine until Moscow annexed it by force in 2014.
Austin declined to offer any details of the call -- including whether he criticized the Russian intercept. But he reiterated at a news conference that the U.S. intended to continue flying where international law allowed and demanded Russian military aircraft operate in a safe and professional manner.
The statement from Russia's defence ministry said the two countries should "act with a maximum of responsibility" including by having military lines of communication in a crisis.
Austin appeared before reporters at the Pentagon alongside General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had a separate call with Russia's Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
The U.S. military has said two Russian Su-27 fighter planes approached its MQ-9 Reaper drone on a reconnaissance mission over the Black Sea's international waters on Tuesday. The fighters harassed the drone and sprayed fuel on it before one clipped the drone's propeller, causing it to crash into the sea.
According to Russia, there was no collision. The drone crashed after making "sharp manoeuvres", having "deliberately and provocatively" flown close to Russian air space. Moscow had scrambled its fighters to identify it. "There is a pattern of behaviour recently where there is a little bit more aggressive actions being conducted by the Russians," Milley told reporters, saying it was unclear whether the Russian pilots intended to strike the drone.
Earlier, State Department spokesperson Ned Price, speaking to MSNBC, said the incident was likely to have been an unintentional act by Russia. While battles between Ukrainian troops and Russian forces raged on in eastern Ukraine, the drone incident on Tuesday was the first known direct U.S.-Russia encounter since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine about a year ago. Russia said the episode showed the U.S. was directly participating in the Ukraine war, something the West has taken pains to avoid.

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