The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says US drone flights over the Black Sea are a sign of direct US involvement in the Ukraine war.
"It is quite obvious what these drones are doing, and their mission is not at all a peaceful mission to ensure the safety of shipping in international waters," Peskov said in a TV interview on Sunday. "And in fact, we are talking about the direct involvement of the operators of these drones in the conflict, and against us."
On March 14, the US military claimed a Russian fighter plane had clipped the propeller of one of its spy drones flying over the Black Sea in "international airspace," causing the drone to crash into the water.
Russia views the incident as a provocation and denied that its forces had made any effort to down the drone, and instead suggested that the US aircraft had possibly crashed due to "sharp maneuvering."
According to Moscow, the incident happened as the UAV was flying "over the waters of the Black Sea in the area of the Crimean peninsula...towards the Russian state border."
Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014 and formally applied to fall under Russian sovereignty following a referendum. Kiev and Washington have refused to recognize Moscow's sovereignty over the territory.
The Russian Defense Ministry has said the pilots of Russian jets involved in the crash incident of the US spy drone will be nominated for decoration. The ministry said they will be awarded for “preventing” a US drone from “violating” international airspace restrictions put in place by Moscow.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that "increased intelligence activities against the interests of the Russian Federation" as well as the "non-compliance with the restricted flight zone" declared by Moscow had led to the drone incident.
Separately, media reports quoting US officials said that Washington resumed surveillance drone flights over the Black Sea region on Friday. An RQ-4 Global Hawk flew a mission to the region on Friday, the officials said, with one adding that it was the first such drone flight since the March 14 incident. Some believe the incident was a reminder of the risk of direct confrontation between the United States and Russia over Ukraine.
Russia accuses the West of becoming directly involved in the war by supplying Ukraine with weapons and training its soldiers.
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