By David Sole
On March 14 a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone was downed over the Black Sea after a collision with a Russian Federation Su-27 jet fighter. The drone is described as an intelligence and surveillance aircraft that was operating off the coast of Crimea. This is an area of conflict in the Ukraine-Russia war that is now in its second year.
There has been a lot of shouting from the U.S. side over the loss of their drone, claiming it was in “international airspace.” However it is well known that the United States is an active participant on the side of Ukraine in the war. In fact the U.S. provoked the war first by engineering the 2014 coup d’etat that put a right-wing, anti-Russian regime in power in Ukraine.
The U.S. and NATO then armed and trained the Ukrainian military for 8 years, while Ukraine waged unrelenting military attacks on the eastern, ethnically Russian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.
In the past year the U.S. has committed more than $100 billion in weaponry and other aid to Ukraine, along with tens of billions of dollars’ more from its NATO allies. The U.S. also provides satellite and other intelligence used by Ukraine to target Russian forces. It is widely believed that the U.S. planned and coordinated the Ukrainian counter offensives in Kherson and Kharkiv provinces.
Russia had controlled the Crimean peninsula, which juts into the Black Sea, since 1783. The port of Sevastopol has served as the base of the Russian navy in the Black Sea and the connecting Mediterranean Sea. When Ukraine became independent in 1991(following the collapse of the Soviet Union) a treaty granted Russia use of its Crimean bases until 2042.
The 2014 coup installed an anti-Russian regime that declared they would no longer honor the treaty. Russia then held a referendum in the largely ethnic Russian Crimea which voted to join the Russian Federation.
Since the start of the Russian Special Military Operation on February 24, 2022, Ukraine has declared its intention to reconquer Crimea and has launched many attacks on Russian vessels in the area with the aid of the United States.
The Russian Black Sea fleet consists of 25,000 personnel, 40 surface ships and nine submarines.
Wikipedia lists the following following attacks by Ukraine on Russian naval vessels over the past year:
- 5 Raptor-class patrol boats — On 22 March 2022, a video appeared of a Raptor-class patrol boat being hit and damaged by an ATGM. According to Russian sources, it had to be towed away afterwards. On the first week of May 2022, Ukrainian forces using Bayraktar TB2 drones attacked four Raptor-class boats (in addition to one BK-16 high speed assault boat, mentioned below) near Snake Island. The extent of the damage was not initially known,but it emerged that three boats were destroyed while one of the Raptor boats withstood the damage and was filmed in Sevastopol for repairs.
- Saratov — On 24 March 2022, a Russian Navy Alligator-class landing ship that was docked in Berdiansk, Ukraine, caught fire. The Ukrainian military claimed that they had hit it, that it was destroyed and that it was the Orsk. Later the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed that Saratov had been destroyed.Two other Russian ships, the Caesar Kunikov, and the Novocherkassk, that were docked nearby sailed away, with fire and smoke billowing out of one. On 2 July 2022, Russian officials said the ship was scuttled back in March by its own crew in order “to prevent detonation of the on-board munitions by the fire that had started” due to a Tochka-U ballistic missile that hit the port. Also it became known that Saratov has been salvaged and will be towed to Kerch, Crimea.
- Moskva — On 13 April 2022, two Ukrainian officials said that the Slava-class cruiser had been hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles and was on fire in heavy seas. The Russian Ministry of Defense said the ship was seriously damaged after a fire caused a munitions explosion. The next day, Russian officials said that the ship had sunk while being towed to port.
- BK-16 high-speed assault boat – In the first week of May 2022, a video appeared of a Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 drone hitting and sinking a high-speed assault boat near Snake Island. The wreck was later recovered.
- Serna-class landing craft – On 7 May 2022, a video appeared of a Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 drone hitting and sinking a landing craft on Snake Island.
- Veliky Ustyug – On 17 June 2022, a photo emerged of the ship being towed on the Volga River in a damaged state. The Buyan-M-class corvette had participated in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
- Vasily Bekh — On 17 June 2022, Ukraine claimed to have sunk the rescue tug (Russian: Спасатель, “Spasatel”) Vasily Bekh with two Harpoon missiles causing it to sink shortly thereafter. Shortly after the sinking, on 21 June, British military intelligence confirmed the attack, stating that the vessel sunk was almost certainly Vasily Bekh.
- Ivan Golubets – On 29 October 2022, Ukrainian forces used an Unmanned Aerial and Submarine Vehicle to strike Russian forces in Sevastopol, Crimea. According to Russia, Ukrainian UAVs slightly damaged the Natya-class minesweeper.
On October 8, 2022 Ukrainian operatives also carried out a sabotage attack that damaged the Kerch Bridge connecting southern Crimea directly to Russia.
In light of the major role of U.S. armaments, intelligence and planning on behalf of its proxy, Ukraine, it is absolutely understandable and justifiable for the Russian forces to protect themselves, including taking out this Reaper spy drone.
Any attempt by the Biden administration to use the downing of this drone as an excuse to escalate the U.S./NATO involvement in the war would be hypocritical. It also reflects the growing desperation by the U.S. in the face of the growing losses by Ukraine in experienced fighters, equipment and ammunition that may lead to a major collapse on the battlefield.