Retrieval of a US surveillance drone that crashed after being intercepted by Russian fighter aircraft would be complex due to the Black Sea's deep waters, a senior American general warned as reports of Russian warships reaching the crash site surfaced.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone, which the US alleges was brought down by one of two Russian Su-27 fighters clipping the drone's propeller, sunk between 1,219 and 1,524 meters deep (4,000 to 5,000 feet).
"It undoubtedly fell to considerable depths so that any recovery effort would be technically challenging," Milley told reporters on Wednesday. Milley noted that it would take many days for the United States to determine the precise magnitude of the debris field.
Moscow, which disputes that its jets made physical contact with the drone, announced on Thursday that it would attempt to retrieve its wreckage as American authorities confirmed that Russian ships had reached the crash site.
The senior Pentagon correspondent for ABC News, Luis Martinez, tweeted that two US sources had confirmed the presence of Russian ships at the crash site in the Black Sea.
Russia and Ukraine have a Black Sea border.
The secretary of Russia's Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, told Rossiya-1 on Wednesday that Russia would endeavour to recover the US surveillance drone.
"I am uncertain whether we will be able to rescue it, but it must be done. And we will undoubtedly work on it. I wish for success," he remarked.
Milley stated that the United States had taken precautions to prevent the loss of critical intelligence should Russia retrieve the drone.
Milley stated, "We're fairly convinced that anything of worth has lost its value."
Patrushev added that the drone incident demonstrated that the United States was involved in the Ukrainian conflict. He stated, "This is further evidence that they are intimately involved in these operations and the war."
Anatoly Antonov, Moscow's ambassador to the United States, stated that Washington's deployment of drones thousands of kilometres from the United States and close to Russia's borders was evidence that it was gathering intelligence for the Ukrainian army to assist it in attacking Russian soldiers.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said that the drone's downing indicates that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to "extend the confrontation."
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's Security and Defense Council, remarked on social media, "The objective of an all-in strategy is to raise the stakes constantly."
At a time when relations were already tense due to Russia's war in Ukraine, it appeared both sides were focused on restraint and avoiding a military escalation. US officials speculated that the Russian plane may have accidentally collided with the drone, while Moscow insisted the jets did not physically interfere with the aircraft.
Milley, the US general, stated that it was evident that the intercept and harassment of the drone by Russian jets were intentional. Still, it was unclear whether the Russian aircraft intentionally made contact with the MQ-9 — a manoeuvre that may have endangered the Russian plane.
"Was it deliberate or not? "We do not yet know," Milley stated.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ned Price, a spokesperson for the US State Department, stated that the incident was likely accidental.
In an unusual phone contact on Wednesday, Milley also spoke with his Russian counterpart, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, according to the Pentagon.
After the event, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also met with his Russian colleague Sergei Shoigu, but he did not disclose the details of their conversation.