WASHINGTON (AP) — Protection Secretary Lloyd Austin mentioned he spoke to his Russian counterpart on Wednesday concerning the destruction of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea, which had introduced the 2 international locations closest to direct battle since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine a yr in the past. It was the primary name between Austin and Protection Secretary Sergei Shoigu since October.

“I simply acquired off the cellphone with my Russian counterpart, Minister Shoigu,” Austin mentioned at a Pentagon press briefing. “As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, it’s necessary that nice powers be fashions of transparency and communication, and the US will proceed to fly and to function wherever worldwide legislation permits.”

The U.S. army mentioned it ditched the Air Power MQ-9 Reaper within the sea after a Russian fighter jet struck its propeller whereas it was flying in worldwide airspace. Russia has denied that it brought about the incident. The U.S. has mentioned it was engaged on declassifying surveillance footage from the drone that will present Tuesday’s crash.

That Austin and Shoigu had been speaking underscored the seriousness of the encounter over the Black Sea. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, contact between U.S. and Russian army leaders has been restricted, with Russian officers refusing to take U.S. army calls within the early months of the battle.

Military Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Workers, mentioned he additionally deliberate to speak to his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Common Workers of the Russian armed forces.

Gerasimov was named the brand new commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine in January and its earlier commander demoted in an obvious signal of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dissatisfaction with the state of the battle, which has been stalemated.

There have been nonetheless questions as as to whether Russia meant to down the drone, regardless that the moments that led as much as its crash had been “intentional,” Milley mentioned.

“We all know that the intercept was intentional. We all know that the aggressive conduct was intentional,” Milley mentioned. Nonetheless, whether or not the collision itself was intentional was nonetheless unclear, he advised reporters on the briefing.

Milley mentioned the drone probably sank in waters that had been 4,000 to five,000 toes (1,200 to 1,500 meters) deep.

If the decision between Austin and Shoigu was de-escalatory in non-public, it was not obvious from Russia’s public statements.

Russian Overseas Minister Sergey Lavrov advised reporters earlier Wednesday that Russia has declared sure areas of the Black Sea off-limits to any aerial visitors in the course of the battle and instructed the U.S. was attempting to impress an escalation by way of the flights. The drone crashed close to Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014 and illegally annexed.

“Any incidents that might provoke confrontation between the 2 nice powers, the 2 largest nuclear powers, elevate very severe dangers,” Lavrov mentioned.

Austin and Shoigu first spoke about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Could 2022. On the time it was the best degree U.S.-Russian contact of the battle.

In October, they spoke twice in three days as the specter of an escalation was excessive. Shoigu had accused Ukraine of planning to make use of a unclean bomb, a declare that was strongly rejected by U.S. and Western allies, who accused Russia of searching for a false pretext to justify additional escalation, probably together with using a tactical nuclear weapon.

The downed $32 million U.S. drone, which incorporates delicate expertise, has not been recovered. The U.S. doesn’t have army ships working within the Black Sea, which has been closed since early 2022 to army vessels that should not have a house port alongside its shores.

U.S. officers mentioned Russia has already despatched ships to the world and tried to get better items of the drone. The officers spoke on the situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t licensed to talk publicly on the matter.

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