On March 14th, an incident occurred over the Black Sea in which a Russian SU-27 fighter jet downed an American MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea. The downing took place after the Russian pilot purposely released its fuel over the drone, forcing it down into international waters.

Through back channels, both Pentagon and Russian Ministry of Defense officials discussed the downing, and both plan on sending reconnaissance units to recover the remains. Washington has since scrubbed the drone of sensitive material but still plans to recover it.

Who will get to our drone first? Video courtesy of YouTube and CRUX.

Russia is Testing an American Response

Several dozen incidents have occurred during the ongoing war in Ukraine that has seen Moscow attempting to draw the limits of red lines of international response. Between targeting civilian ships off the coast of Ukraine, launching cruise missiles over Moldovan airspace, and threatening nuclear war on several dozen occasions, the Kremlin has been pushing to see the Western response to their actions.

Though the incident may have happened due to incompetence by a Russian pilot that tried to interfere with the drone, this has played into the Kremlin’s narrative. Amplifying their rhetoric that any type of assistance to Ukraine could resort to “World War III,” Moscow hopes that American public opinion will continue to call for military aid to be withdrawn from Kyiv. Several politicians and potential 2024 hopefuls have shared a similar message that assistance is not vital to Ukraine.

Moscow Wants To Turn the Black Sea Into Its Personal Lake

Russia’s imperial ambitions over the Black Sea have been intertwined with its national identity for years. Putin had compared his capture of Ukrainian territory around the coastline to Tsar Peter the Great’s conquest. Securing the southern coastline to reinforce their occupation of Crimea has been critical for Moscow’s plans to claim the Black Sea as “theirs.”

Despite having three NATO members who share a coastline in the Black Sea, Russia’s goal has been to assert authority there. Using their naval bases in occupied Ukrainian lands helps with their operations in the Mediterranean, and they see Ukraine and NATO as an obstacle to their renewed imperial ambitions.