Letter From the Editors

According to Izvestia, an American drone known as the MQ‑9 Reaper flying over the Black Sea on the morning of March 14 lost control, splashing into the water. The Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Russian Aerospace Forces detected the drone near the Crimean peninsula, flying in the direction of Russia’s state border. Since the flight path violated the borders of a temporary airspace control area established by Russia, it scrambled fighter jets to identify the transgressor. The Reaper “went into unguided flight after sharp maneuvering,” then “lost altitude and hit the surface of the water.” The Russian military insists that its jets did not fire on the American drone or come into contact with it.

The US military, however, reports the incident differently. Gen. James Hecker, commander of the US Air Forces in Europe, said that the drone was “conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ‑9.”

Nezavisimaya gazeta reports that US media commentary on the crash has taken a consistent tone: This incident shows how dangerously close Russia and the US came to a military conflict, but American officials and experts are being careful not to escalate the matter. For example, in an interview with CNN, former US defense secretary Mark Esper said: “I don’t think we should overreact.”

Contrast this restraint with Washington’s paranoid reaction less than a month ago when a Chinese balloon was spotted in North American airspace. We all remember how that ended, with debris scattered in the Atlantic Ocean. The irony is especially evident considering that unlike the Beijing balloon, the American drone was capable of carrying weapons. Yury Gavrilov concludes: “This means that it was not a plain old drone that was flying toward Russia’s state border, but an aircraft stuffed with surveillance equipment or weapons, and therefore presenting a clear danger to us.”

The Reaper was not the only American asset to crash last week: Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) in California and Signature Bank in New York City went bankrupt within days of each other. Experts interviewed by Rossiiskaya gazeta seemed unanimous in the opinion that the US in effect did Russia a favor by excluding it from the Western financial system. For example, financial analyst Vladislav Antonov believes that nowadays, these and other bank failures in the US will not affect the Russian economy: “Being under sanctions, Russia does not trade in dollars or euros as much as it used to.”

Experts are speculating about whether Russia is going to start trading more in RMB as newly (re)confirmed Chinese leader Xi Jinping prepares for yet another visit to Moscow. The head of China’s Foreign Affairs Commission, Wang Yi, been quite vocal lately about strengthening ties with the Kremlin. For example, in a recent article, he wrote the following about relations between Beijing and Moscow: “Regardless of how the international situation changes, China and Russia will maintain strategic focus and deepen comprehensive strategic partnership and coordination in the new era.”

Analyst Sergei Luzyanin views this relationship as especially crucial as the war in Ukraine continues. “Right now, our value in China’s eyes is greatly increasing. If confrontation with the US escalates, our [military] power is important to China,”

That said, Russia still needs to cooperate in some respects with its current enemy on the Western side. With some reservations, Moscow and Kiev both extended their previous agreement with Turkey and the UN to continue the export of Ukrainian grain from three ports – Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.

We wonder whether the US will send any new Reapers over the Black Sea to check on those grain transports. If so, they might want to give some warning of their presence – perhaps a cowbell on board?