A Russian fighter jet on Tuesday dumped fuel on an American drone over the Black Sea then collided with it, causing the drone to crash, the United States military said.
US European Command said two Russian Su-27 fighters intercepted the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper over international waters and one clipped its propeller.
“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” it said.
The statement confirmed an earlier report by AFP of an incident involving a US-made drone in the area.
Russian intercepts over the Black Sea were common, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists in Washington, but this one “is noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was, indeed reckless that it was”.
NATO diplomats in Brussels confirmed the incident, but said they did not expect it to immediately escalate into a further confrontation.
A Western military source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that diplomatic channels between Russia and the United States could help limit any fall-out.
“To my mind, diplomatic channels will mitigate this,” the source said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year has led to heightened fears of a direct confrontation between Moscow and the Western NATO military alliance, which has been arming Kyiv to help it defend itself.
News of a missile strike in eastern Poland in November last year briefly caused alarm before Western military sources concluded that it was a Ukrainian air defence missile that had malfunctioned, not a Russian one.
There was no immediate reaction from Moscow.