The US is flying drones farther from Russia to be less 'provocative' after a Russian jet harassed and smashed into one, making it crash: report
A Russian fighter jet clipped a US military drone operating above the Black Sea last week.
The Pentagon said despite the incident, Washington will continue flying its aircraft in the region.
US officials say drones are flying farther south and away from Russia, according to a report.
One week after a Russian fighter jet harassed and crashed into a US military surveillance drone over the Black Sea, Washington is still signaling that it'll continue to fly its aircraft in the area — just farther away from Russia and Russian-occupied territories.
During a Tuesday briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters that the US will continue to operate its surveillance drones in international airspace over the Black Sea, "in accordance with international law." For "operation security reasons," Ryder declined to detail specific routes, missions, and timelines.
US officials, however, told CNN that the drones are now flying farther south over the Black Sea and moving away from Russia and occupied Crimea. One official said the decision was made "to avoid being too provocative" and will remain in place "for the time being," but they noted that there's a desire to revert back to operations closer to territory controlled by Russia.
When asked about the unnamed official's comments, a Pentagon spokesperson referred Insider to remarks made by Ryder last week, which are similar to what he said during Tuesday's briefing.
"I'm not going to get into talking about specific missions, routes, timelines of operations," Ryder said on March 16. "I think Secretary Austin was pretty clear that we're going to continue to fly and operate in international airspace where international law allows, and that includes the Black Sea region."
Two Russian Su-27 fighter jets intercepted the US military MQ-9 Reaper drone as it was operating in international airspace above the Black Sea on March 14. The fighter jets dumped fuel on and flew in front of the drone several times before one of the Su-27s clipped the Reaper's propeller, forcing the US military to bring the drone down into international waters.
The incident, which marked the most direct confrontation between Russia and the US since the start of Moscow's full-scale war in Ukraine, sent already strained tensions between the two countries soaring.
US officials criticized the Russians for acting unprofessional and performing unsafe maneuvers, accusing the pilot who hit the drone of being bad at flying and acting "with a lack of competence." Moscow deflected blame on the US, with its ambassador to Washington accusing the Reaper of traveling "deliberately and provocatively" toward Russian-controlled territory.
Black Sea intercepts are not uncommon, and Russian aircraft have engaged in numerous aggressive actions and close encounters against NATO militaries in recent years. But last week's crash raised questions about how operations by the US military and its surveillance activities in the Black Sea might be affected.
Guy Snodgrass, a former naval aviator and TOPGUN instructor who talked with Insider about the collision and what it said about Russian pilots, said there were realistically only two ways that Washington could react to the incident — which experts have characterized as an effort by Russia to send a message to the US.
"You either pull back, meaning you give ground to the Russians, you don't conduct surveillance over international waters in the places you're used to, so basically the de-facto result is that you're giving the Russians what they want," Snodgrass told Insider. "The really only other pathway is to be more aggressive. And certainly in this case, and with everything going on around the world, it doesn't make sense to be more aggressive and it doesn't play to the United States brand."
"We are the adults in the room when it comes to international military forces," the former defense official continued. "And so to become more aggressive, you would cede the high ground and put yourself in a position where they can argue that we're no better than they are."
He said the best course of action is "we just continue conducting operations like normal," but it seems the US, at least for the time being, is opting for pulling back.
Ryan Pickrell contributed to this report.
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