The incident could have drawn the US and NATO directly into the conflict between Moscow and Kiev, Washington Post says
Russia and NATO were just a step away from a potential all-out war last year after a Russian fighter jet almost shot down a British surveillance aircraft, the Washington Post claimed on Sunday, citing a new document from a trove recently leaked from the Pentagon.
The incident, which occurred in late September 2022 was allegedly much more serious than London had previously admitted, the newspaper reported. Back in October 2022, Britain’s Secretary of Defence Ben Wallace told the parliament about the incident, adding that Moscow blamed it on a technical malfunction and London accepted this explanation.
The document, seen by WaPo, describes it as a “near-shoot down of UK RJ” – a reference to the ‘River Joint’ moniker common for the RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft used to collect radio transmissions and electronic messages. The UK said in October that the plane had been intercepted by two Russian Su-27 fighters over the Black Sea, with one of them “releasing a missile” near the British plane.
According to WaPo, the incident could have potentially triggered Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, possibly leading to a direct involvement of NATO forces in the conflict in Ukraine, or even a direct conflict between Moscow and the military bloc.
Neither has the US or the UK nor has Russia commented on the document’s contents, WaPo said. The same paper also suggested that the US took a more cautious approach towards reconnaissance missions in the Black Sea region and in particular told its Air Force to stay away from the Crimean Peninsula, the newspaper reported.
A map contained in the document shows several lines drawn over sections of the Black Sea to mark the areas where American surveillance aircraft can and cannot fly, WaPo reported. One of them goes about 12 nautical miles off the coast of Crimea – a distance marking the territorial waters of a nation under international law.
Another one drawn about 50 nautical miles from the shore is called “SECDEF Directed Standoff.” According to the US media outlet, this line might indicate that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin might have ordered the US Air Force to keep their aircraft away from the peninsula.
Unlike France and the UK, which made crewed surveillance flights over the Black Sea, the US relied on drones, including the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the RQ-170 Sentinel, and the MQ-9 Reaper, the document said, adding that several such unmanned flights take place every month.
In March, the Pentagon accused Russian pilots of reckless flying and claimed that one of the Russian jets had clipped the propeller of a US MQ-9 Reaper drone, causing it to go down. Russia denied hitting the drone or using weapons against it. It also said the US aircraft was flying with its transponder switched off in a no-go zone declared by the Russian military.
A video allegedly shot by the drone only showed a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet buzzing over it and allegedly ejecting fuel in the process. According to CNN, the Pentagon has further rerouted its surveillance drone flights over the Black Sea in the wake of the incident.