The U.S. military surveillance drone that crashed into the Black Sea after being intercepted by Russian fighter jets may never be recovered, White House spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.
In the first such incident since the Ukraine war began, Russian Su-27 jets struck the propeller of the unmanned drone, making it inoperable, the Pentagon said, worsening already tense relations between Washington and Moscow.
Russia’s defense ministry blamed “sharp maneuvering” of the drone for the crash and said that its jets did not make contact.
“It has not been recovered. And I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to recover it,” Kirby said in an interview with CNN. “Where it fell into the Black Sea – very, very deep water. So we’re still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort. There may not be.”
If the Russians recover the craft, U.S. authorities have taken precautions to ensure that their ability to draw useful intelligence from it will be limited, Kirby told ABC.
“That said, it’s our property,” Kirby added, and U.S. authorities will continue to explore recovery options.
Russia said on Wednesday it would try to retrieve the remains the surveillance drone. It denied being responsible for the crash and said relations with the United States had reached their “lowest point”.
“I don’t know whether we will be able to retrieve it or not, but that it has to be done. And we’ll certainly work on it. I hope, of course, successfully,” Kremlin Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev told the Rossiya-1 TV channel.
The incident over international waters on Tuesday was a reminder of the risk of direct confrontation between the United States and Russia over Ukraine, which Moscow invaded more than a year ago and which Western allies have supported with intelligence and weapons.
The State Department on Tuesday summoned Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, to express U.S. concerns over the encounter.
“The message that we delivered to the Russian ambassador is that they need to be more careful in flying in international airspace near U.S. assets that are, again, flying in completely legal ways, conducting missions in support of our national security interests,” Kirby told CNN. “They’re the ones that need to be more careful.
“The message was: Don’t do this again,” Kirby added later on ABC.
Antonov after the meeting said the drone “deliberately and provocatively was moving toward Russian territory with transponders turned off.”
He said his meeting at the State Department was constructive and the issue of possible consequences for Moscow over the incident was not raised, RIA state news agency reported.
U.S. officials have stressed that the United States would continue to fly over international waters in the area.
“And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday at the start of a virtual monthly meeting with allies on arming Ukraine.