Russia Threatens ‘WAR’ On US Drones That Help Ukraine Strike Targets In Crimea; ‘Direct Confrontation’ Next?

In a stark warning, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on June 28 that it had observed a notable rise in US drone activity over the Black Sea and these flights could precipitate “direct confrontation.” 

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The ministry’s statement was issued amidst rising tensions and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where Western-supplied long-range precision weapons are being used more frequently against Russian targets with the assistance of US drones.

The Defense Ministry detailed a recent surge in the intensity of US drone operations, accusing them of conducting intelligence and targeting missions to aid the Ukrainian military.

“It shows an increased involvement of the US and other NATO countries in the conflict in Ukraine on the side of the Kyiv regime,” the statement read.

Such actions, according to the ministry, have raised the likelihood of incidents involving Russian military aircraft, heightening the risk of direct conflict between NATO and Russia. “NATO members will bear responsibility for that,” it added, underscoring the gravity of the situation.

Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov has directed the General Staff to develop proposals for an “operative response to provocations.” The move signals that Moscow is prepared to take forceful measures to deter US reconnaissance flights.

The warning follows accusations by Moscow that the US military assisted Ukrainian forces in guiding long-range missiles for an attack on annexed Crimea on June 23.

The strike resulted in the deaths of four individuals, including a child. Russian officials asserted that the US provided crucial intelligence and targeting support for the attack. They have vowed to take retaliatory measures.

The Pentagon, however, maintains that Ukrainian forces independently decide their strike targets.

When asked about the Russian Defense Ministry’s warning, Deputy Pentagon Spokeswoman Sabrina Singh affirmed that American aircraft and drones would continue operations over international waters.

“We continue to fly, carry out sea voyages, and operate in international waters and international airspaces, where it is allowed by law,” Singh stated at a briefing.

She acknowledged the reports about the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation’s position on these flights but refrained from commenting further.

US Drones Helping Ukraine To Strike Russia 

Since Russia began its invasion, it has frequently accused the US of deploying drones near its borders to aid Ukraine in striking targets in Crimea. This issue has been a point of contention between Washington and Moscow.

In March 2023, a direct clash occurred when a Russian Su-27 fighter jet damaged a US MQ-9 Reaper drone, causing it to crash into the Black Sea. This incident marked the first direct encounter between Russian and US forces since the Cold War.

Following the incident, the Pentagon and US European Command reported that two Russian Su-27 aircraft had dumped fuel on the MQ-9, which was conducting a routine surveillance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace.

Countering that, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the US drone was flying near the Russian border and had entered a restricted area.

Large areas near Crimea have been declared off-limits to flights by Russia. Moscow has accused US surveillance planes of flying too close to its borders and ignoring restrictions, starting from the capture of Crimea in 2014 and continuing before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

A repeat of the March 2023 confrontation could escalate tensions over the Ukraine war. During a recent June 23 attack by Ukrainian forces on Sevastopol, a US Global Hawk was spotted operating near Russian borders.

Shortly after, Russian Telegram channels claimed an American drone had been downed over the Black Sea, however, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on June 25 that he had no information about the alleged downing.

While no incident occurred, the constant presence of US drones near Russian borders has raised concerns about future accidents that could ignite a conflict. The US drones play a key role in targeting Russian military assets.

Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk - Wikipedia
Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk – Wikipedia

In an article for EurAsian Times, Vijainder K Thakur, a former Indian Air Force pilot and defense analyst, noted that thousands of offshore US service personnel stationed in the US and other NATO countries actively participated in the conflict. They analyze large volumes of data from US satellites and drones.

Thakur explained that before an attack on Russia, US airborne and space-based ISR (Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) assets conduct intense surveillance of Crimea to select targets and identify air defense systems.

Ukrainian fixed-wing drones enter Crimean airspace to activate Russian air defense systems, while US RC-135 Elint aircraft and RQ-4 and MQ-9 drones record and analyze radar signals.

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Through this intense surveillance, the US detects gaps in Russian defenses due to technical issues or redeployment, which Ukraine then exploits using Western-supplied long-range weapons.

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US Drones Over the Black Sea

Russia is formulating countermeasures in response to the United States’ continued drone flights over international waters and airspace, which it perceives as a significant threat.

While the exact nature of these measures remains uncertain, Russian experts suggest they could deploy fighter jets and air defense systems.

Igor Malikov, an honored Test Pilot, explained to Izvestia that prompt response would involve the immediate deployment of fighter jets and activation of air defense systems when a drone is detected.

“To affect a drone without using weapons, you need to fly next to it to exert an impact with a tail stream, for example. But this is dangerous…If you have weapons, what’s the point of such maneuvers?” Malikov stated.

He explained that the drones engage in reconnaissance and provide target designation for missiles aimed at Russian positions.

mq-9 reaper
Master Sgt. Matthew Spears and Staff Sgt. Colin Coakley from the 174th Attack Wing Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, New York, place wheel chocks down to stabilize an MQ-9 Reaper on the flightline following its arrival to Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York, August 9, 2023. U.S Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Kylar Vermeulen.

Valery Gorbenko, former commander of the 4th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense and Hero of Russia, echoed Malikov’s sentiments. He advocated closing the airspace over neutral waters in response to hostilities, similar to American procedures in such scenarios.

“If suddenly someone appears, you need to shoot them down,” Gorbenko asserted, noting that small drones could be downed using maneuvers like flying over them and draining kerosene.

Dmitry Kornev, editor of the MilitaryRussia portal, however, pointed out the complexities of shooting down drones over neutral waters due to international law constraints.

“They are located over neutral waters, and the fact that we do not like it is our problem from the point of view of international law,” Kornev added. Instead, he suggested non-contact methods, such as electronic interference, to disrupt the drones’ operations, including radar and navigation jamming.

Kornev highlighted the importance of these drones to the United States, noting their role in monitoring the entire southern region of the special military operation and adjacent Russian territories, including Crimea.

“They monitor communications, radio emissions, the operation of radio stations, and can use radars to control the ground situation,” Kornev explained. He pointed out that the drones gather extensive information, which, if shared with Ukrainian forces, could pose major challenges for Russia.