By KARL RITTER
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- A Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday in a "brazen violation of international law," causing American forces to bring down the unmanned aerial vehicle, the U.S. said.
Moscow said the U.S. drone maneuvered sharply and crashed into water following an encounter with Russian fighter jets scrambled to intercept it near Crimea, but insisted its warplanes didn't fire their weapons or hit the drone.
The incident, which raised tensions over Moscow's war in Ukraine, appeared to mark the first time since the height of the Cold War that a U.S. aircraft was brought down after being hit by a Russian warplane.
U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to White House National Security spokesman John Kirby. He added that U.S. State Department officials would be speaking directly with their Russian counterparts and "expressing our concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional intercept."
State Department spokesman Ned Price called it a "brazen violation of international law." He said the U.S. summoned the Russian ambassador to lodge a protest and the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, has made similar representations in Moscow.
The U.S. European Command said in a statement that two Russian Su-27 fighter jets "conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept" of a U.S. MQ-9 drone that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea.
It said one of the Russian fighters "struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters." Prior to that, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 several times before the collision in "a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner," the U.S. European Command said in a statement from Stuttgart, Germany.
"This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional," it added.
U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said the MQ-9 aircraft was "conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9." He added that "in fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash."
Russia's Defense Ministry said the U.S. drone was flying near its borders and intruded in the area that was declared off limits by Russia, causing the military to scramble fighters to intercept it.
"As a result of sharp maneuver, the U.S. drone went into uncontrollable flight with a loss of altitude" and fell into the water, it said.
Moscow has repeatedly voiced concern about U.S. intelligence flights close to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The Kremlin has charged that by providing weapons to Ukraine and sharing intelligence information with Kyiv, the U.S. and its allies have effectively become engaged in the conflict.
Kirby emphasized that the incident wouldn't deter the U.S. from continuing their missions in the area.
"We're going to continue to fly and operate in international airspace over international waters," he said. "The Black Sea belongs to no one nation."
Amid the continuing fighting in Ukraine, a Russian missile on Tuesday struck an apartment building in the center of Kramatorsk, killing at least one person and wounding nine others in one of Ukraine's major city strongholds in its eastern Donetsk region.
The victims were among at least seven civilians killed and 30 wounded in 24 hours, Ukraine authorities said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking Tuesday during a meeting with workers at a helicopter factory in southern Siberia, once again cast the conflict in Ukraine as an existential one for Russia, charging that unlike the West -- which, he said, is seeking to advance its geopolitical clout -- it's fighting for its existence as a state.
"For us, it's not a geopolitical task," Putin said, "it's the task of survival of Russian statehood and the creation of conditions for the future development of our country."