Defense Secretary Austin speaks to Russian counterpart about US drone incident


United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said he spoke to his Russian counterpart following this week’s downing of a US drone over the Black Sea, which Washington has blamed on Moscow.

Austin told reporters that he spoke with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday, but declined to provide additional details on their discussion.

The rare, high-level talks come a day after US officials said a Russian jet made contact with a US MQ-9 Reaper drone, forcing it to be shot down. Moscow has denied that a collision occurred.

The incident would mark the first time that US and Russian military assets have made contact since the war in Ukraine began in February of last year, and it has fuelled concerns of a potential escalation between the two countries.

But Austin appeared to show restraint during a news conference at the Pentagon, saying the US takes “any potential for escalation very seriously and that’s why I believe it’s important to keep the lines of communication open”.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s important that great powers be models of transparency and communication, and the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows,” Austin said.

“It is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner.”