Russian jet hits U.S. military drone over Black Sea, forcing it to come down Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the U.S. will continue flying 'wherever international law allows.' This comes a day after Russia downed a U.S. drone in the Black Sea.

Despite downed drone, U.S. says it will keep flying near Ukraine

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JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In the skies over the Black Sea, an extremely rare event took place today. An American drone crashed into the waters after a confrontation with Russian fighter jets. The U.S. military says this happened because the Russian jet harassed and then collided with the U.S. drone. The Russians are offering a very different take. For the latest, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hi.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Greg, we learned about this midair collision this afternoon. Just walk us through what happened.

MYRE: Sure. Now, the U.S. military says two Russian fighter jets carried out a, quote, "reckless intercept of an American MQ-9 drone." The U.S. says the drone was on a routine reconnaissance mission in international waters over the Black Sea, which is off the southern coast of Ukraine. Now, the Russian jets initially flew just in front of the much-slower American drone. They did this several times, even dumped fuel on it. And so after about 30 minutes or so of this harassing behavior, one of the Russian jets actually hit the propeller of the drone. Here's the Pentagon spokesman, Brigadier General Pat Ryder.

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PAT RYDER: Intercepts of aircraft are not uncommon in and of themselves just wanting to see what's there, right? In this particular case, they collided with the aircraft, damaging the propeller and essentially putting it in a situation where it was unflyable and uncontrollable. So we brought it down.

SUMMERS: OK, so that's the U.S. view. But the Russians - what are they saying?

MYRE: Yeah, very different version. Russia's defense ministry said its radar picked up what it called a lethal MQ-9 drone heading toward Russia's border. Russia scrambled some jets in order to further identify the aircraft, which they said was flying with its transponders off, making it hard to identify it. Now, the Russians claim the drone made a sharp maneuver on its own and crashed into the water. They also say the Russian jets did not make any contact with the drone or fire any weapons at it.

SUMMERS: I know it's early still, but at this point, are we seeing any sort of U.S. diplomatic response to this?

MYRE: Well, we know President Biden was briefed by his national security advisers this morning. John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, again stressed it's fairly common for Russian planes to intercept all these U.S. aircraft that are flying regularly in the Black Sea. But he said it was very unusual in the unsafe and reckless manner that this was carried out. Now, here in Washington, the U.S. State Department has summoned the Russian ambassador to voice U.S. objections. And in Moscow, the U.S. ambassador has voiced those similar U.S. objections with the Foreign Ministry.

SUMMERS: So, Greg, big picture here, do you think that this is likely to lead to increased tensions or perhaps even some sort of confrontation between the United States and Russia?

MYRE: Well, relations, it seems, could hardly get worse, so this probably will make them a little worse. Now, President Biden has been very, very clear on this. He says the U.S. will support Ukraine as it fights Russia, but he says the U.S. will not get directly involved in a military confrontation with Russia. So we should expect tough words to be exchanged. The U.S. will keep assisting Ukraine. The Pentagon says it will continue with these flights, which are almost a constant presence in the Black Sea and in neighboring countries but not over Ukrainian airspace. But given Biden's statements repeatedly, it seems like he'll seek to address this through diplomatic channels.

SUMMERS: NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you.

MYRE: My pleasure.

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