Russia’s Defense Minister ordered officials to prepare a “response” to U.S. drone flights over the Black Sea, the ministry said Friday, in an apparent warning that Moscow may take forceful action to ward off the American reconnaissance aircraft.

The Russian Defense Ministry noted a recent “increased intensity” of U.S. drones over the Black Sea, saying they “conduct intelligence and targeting for precision weapons supplied to the Ukrainian military by Western countries for strikes on Russian facilities.”

“It shows an increased involvement of the U.S. and other NATO countries in the conflict in Ukraine on the side of the Kyiv regime,” the ministry said in a statement.

It noted that “such flights significantly increase the probability of incidents involving Russian military aircraft, which increases the risk of direct confrontation between the alliance and the Russian Federation.”

“NATO members will bear responsibility for that,” it added.

The ministry said that Defense Minister Andrei Belousov has directed the General Staff to “make proposals on measures of operative response to provocations.”

Washington and Moscow have clashed before over U.S. drones in the Black Sea. In a 2023 incident, a Russian fighter jet damaged an American drone there, causing it to crash. A repeat of such a confrontation could further fuel tensions over the war in Ukraine.

On March 14, 2023, a Su-27 fighter jet of the Russian air force intercepted and damaged a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone, causing it to crash into the Black Sea. The incident marked the first direct clash between the Russian and U.S. forces since the Cold War.

The Pentagon and U.S. European Command said after the incident that two Russian Su-27 aircraft dumped fuel on the MQ-9, which was conducting a routine surveillance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace.

The Russian Defense Ministry said then that the U.S. drone was flying near the Russian border and intruded into an area that was declared off-limits by Russian authorities.

Russia has declared broad areas near Crimea off-limits to flights. Ever since Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea and long before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow has accused U.S. surveillance planes of flying too close to its borders while ignoring the notices issued by Russia.

Friday’s Russian statement follows a Ukrainian attack on Sevastopol over the weekend with U.S.-made ATACMS missiles, which killed four and injured about 150, according to Russian authorities.

Russian officials have claimed that the U.S. was directly involved in the attack by providing intelligence and targeting and warned to take retaliatory measures.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine



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