By Mike Collett-White
NEAR KREMINNA, Ukraine (Reuters)—A Russian Su-27 fighter jet struck the propeller of a U.S. military Reaper surveillance drone on Tuesday, causing it to crash into the Black Sea in an incident condemned as “reckless” by the U.S. military.
White House spokesman John Kirby said that although there have been other such intercepts, this one was noteworthy because it was “unsafe and unprofessional”. U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed about the incident, Kirby added.
In Brussels, NATO’s senior military commander, General Christopher Cavoli, informed allies about the incident, an alliance official said.
It occurred as Russian troops pushed forward in waves along the frontline in eastern Ukraine, while President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed his view that Russia’s very existence as a state was at stake in the war.
In the eastern Donbas region, Russia and Ukraine are locked in the bloodiest infantry battle in Europe since World War Two after Moscow launched a winter offensive.
Putin has framed Moscow’s year-long war invasion as a defensive pushback against what he sees as a hostile West bent on expanding into territories historically ruled by Russia.
“So for us this is not a geopolitical task, but a task of the survival of Russian statehood, creating conditions for the future development of the country and our children,” Putin said during a visit to an aviation factory in Buryatia, some 4,400 km (2,750 miles) east of Moscow.
Putin accuses the West of using Ukraine as a tool to inflict “strategic defeat” on Russia. Kyiv and its Western allies say Moscow is waging an unprovoked war of conquest that has destroyed Ukrainian cities, killed thousands of people and forced millions more to flee their homes.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Peter Graff and Gareth Jones; Editing by Nick Macfie and Angus MacSwan)
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