Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoigu, on Wednesday over the downing of the US MQ-9 Reaper drone in the Black Sea.
It marked the first time since October that the two military leaders spoke, as high-level engagement between the US and Russia has been rare since the invasion of Ukraine was launched in February 2022.
“I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, Minister Shoigu,” Austin told reporters at a press conference alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the call and said it was held at the request of the US. The ministry said on Telegram that Austin and Shoigu exchanged “views on the causes and consequences of the incident with the crash of a US unmanned aerial vehicle on March 14 in the Black Sea.”
The US says a Russian fighter jet collided with the drone’s propeller, causing it to crash. The Russian side insists the aircraft did not collide and says the drone crashed after making a sharp maneuver.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that Shoigu told Austin that “the cause of the incident was the actions of the United States on non-compliance with the restricted flight zone declared by the Russian Federation.”
At the press conference, Austin and Milley blamed the incident on Russia’s “aggressive” behavior in the Black Sea. “We know that the intercept was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional,” Milley said. He also told reporters that the US wasn’t sure if the Russian plane intended to collide with the drone.
Russian officials said the drone entered airspace that Russia declared off limits due to its military operations and accused the US of sending the MQ-9 as an intentional provocation. Austin insisted the drone was on a “routine” surveillance flight in international airspace and vowed such flights will continue.
“As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s important that great powers be models of transparency and communication, and the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows,” he said.