The US Air Force has released a video claiming to show a Russian jet intercepting a US drone and dumping fuel in its path over the Black Sea.
The American military said two Russian Su-27 jets intercepted the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone in international airspace before one of them struck the aircraft’s propeller, causing US forces to bring it down.
Russia has denied involvement, with a senior figure describing the episode as a “provocation”.
The US military said it ditched the MQ-9 Reaper in the sea Tuesday after the Russian fighter jet poured fuel on the unmanned aerial vehicle and then struck its propeller.
Defence secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley have spoken to their Russian counterparts about the destruction of the US drone following the encounter with Russian fighter jets.
The calls with Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov on Wednesday were the first since October.
While intercept attempts are not uncommon, the incident during the war in Ukraine has raised concerns it could bring the United States and Russia closer to direct conflict.
Recovery of US drone “difficult” after crash with Russian jet
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that the US had made it “impossible” for Russia to obtain any useful material from the downed drone.
“Whatever’s left of that that’s floating will probably be flight control surfaces, that kind of thing,” Mr Kirby told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“Probably nothing of real intrinsic value to them in terms of re-engineering or anything like that. We’re not overly concerned about whatever they might get their hands on.”
And he added: “It’s our property and they have no business recovering anything.”
That the two countries’ top defence and military leaders were talking so soon after the encounter over the Black Sea underscored its seriousness.
The Kremlin has said a decision on whether to retrieve the drone will come from Russia’s ministry of defence.
“This is the prerogative of the military. If they believe that it is necessary for our interests and our security in the Black Sea, they will do it,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
Earlier on Wednesday, the top US military general said that the drone had probably broken up and was in deep water, making its recovery difficult.
“It probably sank to some significant depth, so any recovery operation from a technical standpoint would be very difficult,” Mr Milley told reporters.
The US was unable to reach the site before Russia as it currently has no Navy ships in the Black Sea.