US, Russian military chiefs resume contact to discuss drone
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he spoke to his Russian counterpart on Wednesday about the destruction of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea, which had brought the two countries closest to direct conflict since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine a year ago. It was the first call between Austin and Defense Secretary Sergei Shoigu since October.
“I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, Minister Shoigu,” Austin said at a Pentagon press briefing. “As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s important that great powers be models of transparency and communication, and the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows.”
The U.S. military said it ditched the Air Force MQ-9 Reaper in the sea after a Russian fighter jet struck its propeller. Russia has denied that it caused the incident. The U.S. has said it was working on declassifying surveillance footage from the drone that would show Tuesday's crash.
That Austin and Shoigu were talking underscored the seriousness of the encounter over the Black Sea. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, contact between U.S. and Russian military leaders has been limited, with Russian officials refusing to take U.S. military calls in the early months of the war.
The two military chiefs first spoke about Russia's invasion of Ukraine in May 2022. At the time it was the highest level U.S.-Russian contact of the war.
In October, they spoke twice in three days as the threat of an escalation was high. Shoigu had accused Ukraine of planning to use a dirty bomb, a claim that was strongly rejected by U.S. and Western allies, who accused Russia of seeking a false pretext to justify further escalation, potentially including the use of a tactical nuclear weapon.
Lolita C. Baldor And Tara Copp, The Associated Press