(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. military drone downed after a collision with a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea probably broke into pieces and is likely about 4,000-5,000 feet below the surface, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said on Wednesday.
“Any recovery operation’s very difficult at that depth – by anyone,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. Russian officials have said Russia will try to recover the American drone.
Reuters quoted Kremlin Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev as saying, "I don't know whether we will be able to retrieve it or not, but that it has to be done. And we'll certainly work on it.”
Patrushev said the drone will confirm that the Americans “are directly participating” in the war in Ukraine.
Milley confirmed that the U.S. has no warships in the Black Sea, although he hinted that “allies and friends” that do operate in the area may be involved should an effort be put in place to recover the remains of the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle.
“We’ll work through recovery operations; that’s U.S. property,” he said. “It probably broke up. There’s probably not a lot to recover, frankly.”
“Any recovery operation from a technical standpoint would be very difficult,” Milley said. “If there is reason to believe that we could or – recover something, then we’ll work up options for the secretary and the president to consider and we’ll move from there.
“But we do have options and we do have friends and allies in the region.”
The U.S. has not had a warship in the Black Sea since December 2021. Turkey, which under a 1936 treaty oversees passage into and out of the waterway, closed the Bosphorus Strait to outside navy vessels four days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
NATO allies Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania have Black Sea coastlines.
Asked if the U.S. was concerned about the strategic or propaganda value the drone remains may have for the Russians if they recover them, Milley said that the U.S. military in line with normal practice took “mitigating measures.”
“So we are quite confident that whatever – whatever was of value is no longer of value,” he added, without elaborating.
Earlier, U.S. European Command said personnel controlling the UAV had been compelled to pilot it down and into the sea after one of two Russian Su-27 fighters that intercepted it over international waters collided with the drone’s propellor.
Before the collision, the jets’ pilots had “dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” EUCOM said.
Russia’s defense ministry denied that any collision had taken place, a denial repeated on Wednesday by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Milley said the Russian pilots’ harassment of the drone – the “aggressive behavior” including the dumping of fuel – was intentional, although he said it was not yet certain if the actual collision was deliberate.
‘We do not seek armed conflict with Russia’
Asked if the incident could be “considered an act of war,” Milley replied, “I’m not going to go there.”
“Incidents happen and clearly, we do not seek armed conflict with Russia,” he said. “And I believe that at this point we should investigate this incident and move on from there. But we will continue to exercise our rights in international airspace.”
Milley said U.S. and Russian military assets operate in close proximity in several parts of the world, and “deconfliction channels” are in place in a bid to prevent such incidents from happening.
“But there is a pattern of behavior recently where there’s a little bit more aggressive actions being conducted by the Russians. We think – we haven’t completed our analysis as to why that’s happening.”
Briefing reporters alongside Milley, Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin said he had spoken by phone to his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, and made clear that the U.S. would “continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows.”
“And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and a professional manner.”
It’s believed to be the first time the two have spoken since last October.
The Russian readout of the phone call said Shoigu attributed the incident to U.S. actions that did not respect flight restrictions which Russia put in place because of its “special military operation” in Ukraine. He also blamed enhanced intelligence gathering by the U.S. directed against Russia, and called the presence of U.S. drones provocative.
“It has been noted that flights by U.S. strategic unmanned aerial vehicles near the Crimean coastline are provocative, which creates conditions for the situation in the Black Sea zone to escalate,” the defense ministry quoted Shoigu as saying.
“The Russian Federation is not interested in this sort of developments, but it will continue to respond proportionately to all provocations.”
Exactly where the drone went down has not been made public, although Milley said its location is known. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Black Sea at its deepest point – the south-central sector – reaches depths of more than 7,000 feet.
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