Austin Spoke with Russian Counterpart After Black Sea Incident

March 15, 2023

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday he has spoken with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, after a “Russian jet struck our MQ-9, resulting in a crash” on Tuesday.

On Tuesday National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby confirmed that a Russian Su-27 fighter jet collided with an American MQ-9 Reaper drone in international airspace over the Black Sea, which Kirby called an  “unsafe” and “unprofessional” incident on the part of Russia.

“I won’t speak for Minister Shoigu, nor will I get into the details of the discussion,” Austin said on Wednesday. “I’ll just reiterate that the United States will fly and operate wherever international law allows.”

He added that the U.S. takes “any potential for escalation very seriously and that’s why I believe it’s important to keep the lines of communication open.”

Both Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who also took part in Wednesday’s press conference, agreed that the aggressive behavior by the Russians over the Red Sea was part of a pattern. 

“The fact that we operate in proximity to each other is not particularly unusual,” said Milley. “And we do try to establish the confliction channels in order to ensure that our forces are physically separated and we don’t have incidents like this. But there is a pattern of behavior recently where there’s a little bit more aggressive actions being conducted by the Russians. We haven’t completed our analysis as to why that’s happening.”

Milley also said he he planned to speak with his Russian Counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, but had not done so yet. 

However, Milley did assert that there was “no question” but that the aggressive behavior by the Russians that led to the collision “was intentional.” But whether the actual collision was intentional, Milley, like Austin, said, “Not sure yet.”

Austin further told reporters that military authorities were going “through videos and photographs” to ascertain what could be publicly released. He added, “We remain confident in the facts that we have conveyed thus far. And that will not change in terms of what happened and how it happened.” 

Russian and U.S. aircraft have operated over the Black Sea throughout the duration of the war in Ukraine, but this is the first known such interaction.

Both Austin and Milley blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin for waging war in Ukraine in the first place—and insisting that the Russians’—in Milley’s words—”mindless frontal attacks” are sacrificing hundreds of lives per day.

“The political objectives the Putin intended to achieve 384 days ago are obvious to the world,” Milley went on. “And it should be obvious to Putin that these objectives are no longer achievable by continuing this war. Putin can end this war he can get it today, and he needs to do so.”

Austin further asserted, “It is incumbent upon Russia to operate as military aircraft in a safe and professional manner.”

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