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Tipsheet

Putin Has His Eyes on the American Drone That Crashed Into the Black Sea

MAYA ALLERUZZO

After an unmanned U.S. MQ-9 drone was intercepted in international airspace and downed by Russian fighter jets on Tuesday, Putin's government claims it is working on recovering the American aircraft from the Black Sea while the Biden administration has not said it would try to get its drone back.

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The wreckage of the drone — which crashed after a Russian Su-27 hit its propeller — is "presumed to be in deep water," according to reporting from The Associated Press on Wednesday. 

Still, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said "Russian planned to search for the drone's debris" in order to recover what's left of the aircraft. "I don’t know if we can recover them or not, but we will certainly have to do that, and we will deal with it," Patrushev said, per AP. Russia claims to have the "technological capability" to recover the American drone.

While Russia is posturing and claiming it can recover the MQ-9, the Biden administration seems to be watching it all happen. According to AP, the United States "has no vessels in the Black Sea" due to a Turkish closure of the Bosphorus Strait to military ships. 

In Wednesday's Pentagon press briefing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said that the United States knows where the drone crash landed into the Black Sea, and its location in "4,000 to 5,000 feet of water" means "any recovery operation is very difficult" for any country.

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Acknowledging that the United States doesn't have ships in the region, Gen. Milley said "we have a lot of friends and allies" in the area and noted the MQ-9 drone "probably broke up" leaving little to be recovered anyway. The U.S. "does have options," Milley added, though he didn't provide any information on what those options were or whether any would be employed to attempt recovery of the drone. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the White House's John Kirby, said the U.S. had taken "steps to protect the information [gathered by the drone] and to protect- to minimize any effort by anybody else to exploit that drone for useful content."

As for any other action regarding the downed drone, Kirby said he's "not sure" the United States is "going to be able to recover it," a position confirmed by Gen. Milley.

"It fell into the Black Sea, in very, very deep water," Kirby said on CNN. "So we’re still assessing whether there can be a recovery effort," reiterating the Biden administration's position that "there may not be" an attempt to recover its drone. 

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It remains to be seen whether Russia actually has the ability — or the resources amid its war against Ukraine — to locate the drone its fighter jets downed and recover what remains of it from the Black Sea's international waters. 

If Russia does get its hands on the American aircraft, that's another failure on the part of the Biden administration, which mustered a response that would only "minimize" the ability for America's foes to exploit the drone. Why not take action to ensure there's no ability for Russia — or its friends in China, Iran, and North Korea — to exploit the crashed drone. 

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