Russian officials on Wednesday said they intend to recover the debris of the US MQ-9 Reaper drone that was downed in the Black Sea on Tuesday after being intercepted by Russian fighter jets.
“I don’t know if we can recover [it] or not, but we will certainly have to do that, and we will deal with it,” said Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council. “I certainly hope for success.”
US officials suggested they’ve taken steps to prevent Russia from recovering the drone. “Without getting to too much detail, what I can say is that we’ve taken steps to protect our equities with respect to that particular drone, that particular aircraft and its United States property,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
Kirby doubted that the US would be able to recover the drone, which was downed somewhere near Crimea. “It has not been recovered, and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to recover it. I mean, where it fell into the Black Sea, very, very deep water,” he told CNN. “So we’re still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort mounted there. There may not be.”
A spokesman for US European Command told Fox News that the US currently doesn’t have any Navy ships in the Black Sea. But there are several NATO countries with Black Sea coasts, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. A US official told The New York Times that the drone had taken off from a base in Romania.
Patrushev also said on Wednesday that the drone incident was more “confirmation” that the US was directly involved in the war in Ukraine. The US insists the drone was on a routine “surveillance flight,” while Moscow said the MQ-9 entered an area that Russia closed off without its transponder on.
Other Russian officials said the MQ-9 was collecting targeting data for Ukraine’s armed forces. It’s not clear what exactly the drone was doing, but Ukraine does rely on coordinates provided by the US for its rocket strikes against Russian soldiers and other targets.
The US and Russia have made conflicting claims about Tuesday’s drone downing. The US insists a Russian fighter clipped the MQ-9s propeller, forcing it down, while Moscow said the drone crashed into the water after being intercepted due to a “sharp maneuver” it made.
The US has vowed to continue flying surveillance flights in the sensitive area despite the risk of a major escalation with Moscow. “So make no mistake, the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows. And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate as military aircraft in a safe and professional manner,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday.