Black Sea drones show U.S. involvement in conflict against Russia, says Kremlin

FILE PHOTO: View from USAF MQ-9 drone during incident over Black Sea
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(Reuters) - U.S. drone flights over the Black Sea are a sign of direct U.S. involvement in conflict with Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying on Sunday.

Last week, a U.S. drone crashed into the sea after being intercepted by Russian Su-27 fighter planes in the first known direct military encounter between the two sides since Russia launched its war in Ukraine last year.

"It is quite obvious what these drones are doing, and their mission is not at all a peaceful mission to ensure the safety of shipping in international waters," Interfax news agency quoted Peskov as saying in a TV interview.

"And in fact, we are talking about the direct involvement of the operators of these drones in the conflict, and against us."

The United States said the Russian planes harassed the drone in Tuesday's incident and sprayed fuel on it before one of them clipped its propeller and caused it to crash while on a reconnaissance mission in international airspace.

Russia said the drone had violated airspace restrictions and lost control after manoeuvring sharply.

Russia's defence minister has presented awards to the airmen involved, in a rejoinder to U.S. accusations that the incident showed recklessness and possible incompetence on the part of the pilots.

Moscow says the United States and its allies are using Ukraine to wage war on it and inflict a "strategic defeat" on Russia. Washington says it is helping Ukraine to defend itself against an unprovoked Russian invasion.

(This story has been corrected to say Black Sea from Baltic Sea in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by David Goodman and Peter Graff)