Frosty U.S.-Russia relations deteriorated as sides traded accusations over downing of U.S. drone and Russia detained U.S. journalist.
U.S. accused Russia of downing drone. U.S. military’s European Command 14 March said Russian fighter jet struck propeller of U.S. military surveillance drone, forcing U.S. to down drone in international waters; U.S. immediately summoned Russia’s Ambassador Anatoly Antonov over incident. Russia same day denied accusations its fighter jet made contact with drone, insisting it had entered area near Russia-occupied Crimea, declared “off-limits” by Moscow, causing Russian military to scramble fighters to intercept it and that, “as a result of sharp manoeuver”, drone crashed. U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin 15 March held phone call with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to discuss incident and avert further escalation. Austin said collision was part of “pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots” and that U.S. will “continue to fly […] wherever international law allows”; Shoigu reportedly said such actions, which violate Russia’s flight restrictions, risked further escalating situation and that Russia will “continue to respond proportionately to all provocations”. Shortly after incident, Russia reportedly sent ships to recover wreckages of drone.
Russian authorities arrested U.S. journalist. In worrying sign for foreign journalists working in Russia, security services 30 March detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen, on suspicion of espionage, first such case since Cold War; court same day ordered his pre-trial detention until 29 May. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 30 March condemned “Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress and punish journalists and civil society voices”. U.S. same day urged its citizens to immediately leave country.
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