Washington summoned Russia's ambassador to protest the "reckless" behaviour of the Russian pilots of two Su-27 fighter planes after the Pentagon claimed the intercept of the MQ-9 Reaper drone in international airspace resulted in the drone's loss.
According to Military spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, the jets dumped fuel on the MQ-9 in an apparent attempt to blind or harm it and flew in front of the aircraft before one of the jets crashed with the drone's propeller.
The incident, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price, was a clear violation of international law.
Ryder said earlier that the U.S. military had to crash the drone into the Black Sea because of damage it sustained when it was intercepted.
Ryder said he was not aware of any radio communications between Russian and U.S. officials at the time of the incident.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied that its aircraft collided with the drone, which it claimed crashed after "sharp manoeuvring." It was discovered near the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
"The Russian fighters did not use their onboard weapons, did not collide with the [drone], and safely returned to their home airfield," the ministry said.
It also stated that the drone was flying without activating its transponders, which enable aircraft to be detected by radar.
The US drone flight, according to Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, was a "provocation," and there was no reason for US military aircraft to be near Russia's borders.
Antonov emphasised, after meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Karen Donfried, that the Russian planes did not hit the US drone or fire their weaponry. Moscow wants “pragmatic” ties with Washington, he said. "We don't want any conflict between the United States and Russia," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the incident "another reckless act" by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military.
"I want to tell Mr. Putin, Stop this behaviour before you are the reason for an unintended escalation," Schumer said in remarks to the US Senate.
The MQ-9 was executing a conventional ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) operation in international airspace when it was detected and struck by a Russian aircraft, according to US Air Force General James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa.
According to Hecker, the MQ-9 was completely destroyed in the collision. According to Ryder, the drone's wreckage has yet to be recovered.
According to White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, the drone is the property of the United States, and the US military does not want any other government to "get their hands on it."
NATO diplomats in Brussels confirmed the incident occurred, but said they did not expect it to immediately escalate into another confrontation.
According to the US statement, the incident follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with US and allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea.
According to the statement, US forces frequently fly aircraft throughout Europe over sovereign territory and international airspace in compliance with host states and international regulations.
Russian intercepts of non-Russian planes and drones are "not uncommon." "But this one "is noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional... indeed reckless that it was," Kirby said earlier on a conference call with reporters.
While it was not the first of its kind, he said it was the first to result in a U.S. drone being lost in the Black Sea.
“We have been flying over that airspace consistently now for a year and we are going to continue to do that," Kirby added.