The US military Tuesday announced a Russian fighter jet collided with and downed a US drone over the Black Sea. The US claims Russia downed the drone in international airspace while it was acting in accordance with international law. However, Russia says the drone violated a “temporary airspace regime” established around the Crimean Peninsula following Russia’s invasion and occupation of the area.
Both the US Air Force and the Russian Ministry of Defense released statements regarding the incident, which contradict each other. According to the US, following a series of “reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional” moves, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet struck the propeller of an MQ-9 drone over the Black Sea. The US claims they were conducting “routine operations in international airspace” when the Russian fighter jet struck the drone.
The US Air Force stated that the military “routinely fl[ies] aircraft throughout Europe over sovereign territory and throughout international airspace in coordination with applicable host nation and international laws.”
However, Russia claims that the US drone suddenly crashed into the Black Sea following “abrupt maneuvering.” Russia claims that their fighter jet never deployed any weapons nor in any way came into contact with the US drone. Nevertheless, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated the drone “violat[ed] the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation, communicated to all users of international airspace, and published in accordance with international standards.”
According to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, “[n]o state aircraft…shall fly over the territory of another State or land thereon without authorization by special agreement or otherwise.” Airspace outside of a state’s territorial claim is considered international airspace.
The Black Sea, where the US drone went down, is bordered by many countries. Ukraine and Russia are among them. The Crimean Peninsula juts into the Black Sea. The basis of Russia’s allegation that the US violated international law rests on Russia’s claim that they established temporary airspace restrictions above Crimea after their 2014 invasion and occupation of the region. However, the US does not recognize Russia’s claim over Crimea. Rather, the US’s official position is that “Crimea is Ukraine.” Even so, if the drone went down over the Black Sea, the US maintains that airspace over the Black Sea is not owned by any one state, but rather it is international airspace.
The US Department of State summoned Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov to the department on Tuesday afternoon. Department of State officials told the media they summoned Antonov to convey the US’s “strong objections.”