US doesn’t know if Russian jet intentionally hit drone

U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley on Wednesday said U.S. officials don’t yet know if it was an intentional hit when a Russian fighter jet a day prior struck an American drone over the Black Sea, though he planned to talk with his Russian counterpart about it. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who spoke alongside Milley, said he had already spoken by phone with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, over the incident that forced the MQ-9 Reaper to crash in the Black Sea. 

The call marked the first time Austin spoke with Shoigu since October, and the upcoming conversation will be the first time Milley has spoken to his counterpart since the same month. 

“I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, Minister Shoigu,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon. “As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s important that great powers be models of transparency and communication.” 

He declined to offer details about the conversation, but said it’s important to keep lines of communication open to “help to prevent miscalculation going forward.” 

Later Wednesday, the Russian defense ministry said the main focus of the call was the “causes and consequences” of the downing, which it claimed was “caused by the US actions of non-compliance with the flight restriction zone declared by the Russian Federation” established due to the war in Ukraine.

“It is noted that the U.S. flights of strategic unmanned aerial vehicles off the coast of Crimea are provocative in nature, which creates preconditions for the escalation of the situation in the Black Sea area,” according to the readout.

Milley, meanwhile, said he plans later Wednesday to talk to his counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces. 

The four-star general said there were still questions as to whether Russia intended to strike the drone, but said the moments leading up to the crash were “intentional.” 

“We know that the intercept was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional,” Milley said. But whether the physical contact between the two was on purpose, “that remains to be seen,” he added.  

Administration officials have said the MQ-9 was flying a routine flight over the Black Sea when it was flanked by two Russian jets for about 30 to 40 minutes. 

One of the jets then flew in front of the drone and dumped fuel, followed by one of the Russian jets striking the drone’s propeller, causing it to crash into the Black Sea. 

Russia has denied that it had direct contact with the Reaper, instead suggesting it was the U.S. that was attempting to provoke an escalation by flying in the region. 

Austin, however, vowed that U.S. aircraft will continue to “fly and to operate wherever international law allows.” 

And Milley said the United States does “not seek armed conflict with Russia, and I believe that at this point, we should investigate this incident and move on from there.” 

Updated at 4:48 p.m.

Tags Lloyd Austin Lloyd Austin Mark Milley Mark Milley russia Sergei Shoigu ukraine

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