Amid reactions from the US and Russia over the incident in the Black Sea, experts believe the episode heats up the issue of countries’ right to operate aircraft and drones in international airspace.
On March 14, 2023, an American drone crashed into the Black Sea after an encounter with a Russian aircraft. This incident in the sky has increased the possibilities and apprehensions of a direct confrontation between two big superpowers America and Russia on the ground. Let us tell you that this week, when the US unarmed MQ-9 surveillance drone was flying in international airspace, two Russian fighter jets shot down the drone in violation of international law. Since then, a new series of allegations and counter-allegations has started between the two countries. The Russian Defense Ministry has denied US allegations that the US drone was flying with its transponder in the direction of Russia’s borders. Russia says it found the flight suspicious because the US drone violated temporary limits.
On the other hand, amidst the reactions of the US and Russia to the incident, experts believe that the episode heats up the issue of countries’ right to operate aircraft and drones in international airspace. If the US side is right, then Russia has indeed violated international law by getting in the way of US drones. Let us tell you that under Article 87 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the waters that are not the territorial sea or the exclusive economic zone of any country are open to all countries and allow any country to enter this area. Have the freedom to fly. Although America is not a party to this treaty made in 1982, but 168 countries including Russia are its members. Nevertheless, the US recognizes several provisions of this law. Therefore, the US believes that Russia has directly interfered in its jurisdiction and this act is a clear violation of international law.
Russia, on the other hand, is concerned that US drones could spy on its military operations, so it is unwilling to abide by any rules at any cost. In fact, according to the law, surveillance inside the territory of another country while being within international airspace is not wrong. America wants to take advantage of this and Russia is determined not to let this happen. In this whole episode, however, Russia appears to believe that it was entitled to re-establish international boundaries for its “special military operation” in Ukraine, but the US disregarded those boundaries. In fact, Russia established a maritime exclusion zone in February 2022 to restrict navigation in the northwestern part of the Black Sea. The US also established a maritime security zone in the Mediterranean Sea in 2003 in connection with the invasion of Iraq.
But despite all this, Russia would have a reasonable basis to use force or intervene against a US drone only if the drone posed a threat of armed attack or was sent to attack a target. Anyway it was MQ-9 drone which was unarmed.
However, this is not the first time that a country has obstructed the path of an American or any other country’s surveillance aircraft and shot it down. In 2001, a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US signals intelligence aircraft flying 70 miles off Hainan Island, China. The American plane was so damaged that it had to make an emergency landing on Hainan, while the Chinese fighter plane itself crashed. Apart from this, China had also intercepted Australian and Canadian aircraft which were conducting routine surveillance in the international airspace.
However, the US is in no mood to sit quietly on the issue as the Pentagon, the headquarters of its Defense Ministry, has criticized the unsafe practices of Russian fighter jets in the path of US Air Force surveillance drones in the international airspace over the Black Sea. Has released the video of coming from. Regarding this 42-second video, the Pentagon has said that in the video, a Russian Su-27 is coming from behind the US MQ-9 drone and starts releasing fuel as it passes. The US military said it shot down an MQ-9 Reaper at sea after Russian fighter jets dumped fuel on the unmanned aerial vehicle that prevented its ‘optical’ (surveillance) instruments from being seen and forced it out of the area and its propellers. There was a clear attempt to disrupt However, the released portion of the video does not show the events before or after the confrontation over the fuel spill.
Immediately following the incident, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley spoke with their Russian counterparts. It is also worth mentioning here that the call with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, took place for the first time since October. During the talks, the Russian Defense Minister accused the US of provoking the incident by ignoring the Kremlin-imposed flight restrictions due to Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. Russia also accused it of “increasing intelligence activities against the interests of the Russian Federation”. At the same time, America says that this incident shows the increasing audacity of Russia.
While attempts by planes to approach each other dangerously are not uncommon, the incident, which occurred in the midst of the war in Ukraine, has raised concerns that such cases could bring the US and Russia closer to direct conflict. After this incident, this conversation between the defense and military leadership of both the countries underlines the seriousness of the matter. Apart from this, the way this issue is being discussed all over the world, it also shows that the world is trembling with the imagination of another war because the Russia-Ukraine war is already affecting everyone directly or indirectly.
-Neeraj Kumar Dubey