On Tuesday, the U.S. military reported that a Russian fighter plane collided with the propeller of its spy drones, causing it to crash into the Black Sea. This was the first direct interaction between the two powers since Russia invaded Ukraine over a year ago.
The Russian defence ministry provided a different explanation. The Russian ambassador to the United States stated that his country saw the incident involving an American MQ-9 drone and a Russian Su-27 fighter plane as a provocation.
The United States conducts regular surveillance flights in the region and has supported Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in military aid. However, it has not been fully embroiled in the war.
However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stated on Tuesday evening that all military commanders favoured holding the eastern frontline, including the devastated city of Bakhmut, which has been under siege by Russia for months.
"Bakhmut was the primary topic," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video message. The position of the entire command was apparent: Strengthen this area and kill the occupiers to the greatest extent possible.
The government's parliamentary representative announced Zelenskiy's dismissal of three regional governors, including Luhansk in the east, Odesa on the Black Sea in the south, and Khnelitskiy area in the West, but did not explain.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that Russia was "on the attack" across the entire frontline in the eastern Donetsk region, with fighting also raging north of Bakhmut near Kreminna, Bilohorivka, and Sprine.
She told Ukrainian television that the defence of Bakhmut was crucial because "a great amount of nasty stuff is being destroyed... Many enemy troops are being killed, and today, the enemy's ability to advance is being reduced."
On the political and commercial fronts, discussions proceeded to prolong an agreement allowing grain exports from Ukraine's Black Sea ports, which is set to expire this week, according to the United Nations and Turkey. The Ukrainian government rejected a Russian proposal for a 60-day extension, which would have been half the length of the previous extension.
Two Russian Su-27 fighters carried out what the U.S. military described as a reckless intercept of the American spy drone while operating in international air space. It said the Russian fighter jets sprayed fuel on the MQ-9 - presumably intending to blind or harm it - and flew in front of it in dangerous movements.
After 30 to 40 minutes, one of the jets collided with the drone at 7:03 a.m. (0603 GMT), forcing it to crash, according to the U.S. military.
The Pentagon said Russia had not recovered the drone, and the jet was likely damaged.
General James Hecker, who commands the U.S. Air Force in the region, said, "In fact, this reckless and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash."
The Russian defence ministry denied that its aircraft had contacted the uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV), which it said had crashed due to "aggressive manoeuvring." It was reported that the drone had been spotted near the peninsula of Crimea, which Russia invaded from Ukraine in 2014.
According to the Russian defence ministry, the Russian jets did not fire their onboard weaponry, had no contact with the UAV, and returned safely to their home airport.
The occurrence in the Black Sea, bordered by Russia, Ukraine, and other nations, could not be independently confirmed.
"This is a susceptible point in this confrontation because it truly is the first direct contact that the public knows about between the West and Russia," said Elisabeth Braw, a senior scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Russian Ambassador Summoned
The U.S. State Department called Russia's ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, to discuss what occurred over the Black Sea, according to spokesperson Ned Price.
RIA official news agency said that Antonov described his conversation as "productive" and that the topic of potential "consequences" for Moscow was not discussed.
"As for us, we do not desire any confrontation between the United States and Russia. We support pragmatic ties for the mutual benefit of the Russian and American peoples, "Antonov was cited as having said.
Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, has portrayed Moscow's "special military operation" in Ukraine as defensive against what he perceives to be a hostile West intent on advancing into historically Russian-held regions.
Ukraine and its Western allies assert that Russia is waging an unjustified war of conquest that has destroyed Ukrainian cities, killed thousands of people, and displaced millions more.