The crash of a US surveillance drone in the Black Sea after an encounter with two Russian fighter jets would add to confrontations between the United States and Russia, but was unlikely to lead to a direct military conflict, Chinese analysts said. In a statement, the US European Command said two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted “an unsafe and unprofessional” intercept with an unmanned MQ-9 Reaper that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea on Tuesday. It said the Russian fighter jets dumped fuel on the aircraft and flew in front of it, with one of the jets clipping the propeller of the drone, forcing the US military to bring down the aerial vehicle in international waters. Russia’s defence ministry acknowledged its military scrambled fighters to intercept the drone, but denied one of its fighters struck the US aircraft. After an abrupt manoeuvre, the drone flew out of control “lost altitude and crashed into the water,” Russia’s Tass news agency reported, citing the defence ministry. Moscow also said that the US drone was flying over the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula towards Russian airspace with its transponders off . The US State Department summoned Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov to a meeting Tuesday, who later said Moscow views the incident as a “provocation”, but added it does not seek confrontation with the US, Reuters reported. It was unlikely that the downing of the drone was caused by a Russian fighter jet, since striking the drone would also put the fighter jet in danger, Chinese military observers said. Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, said the incident will “add a little fuel to the already serious confrontation”. “But it will not be because of this incident that the United States and Russia will take a substantial step towards military conflict,” he said. Drones are changing the course of the Ukraine war. China is watching The US has used MQ-9 drones for both surveillance and strikes, and has reportedly operated them over the Black Sea to keep an eye on Russian naval forces. This was not the first time one of the US$32 million drones has been destroyed. In 2019, a Reaper was shot down over Yemen by Houthi rebels with a surface-to-air missile. John Kirby, a member of the US National Security Council, said it was “not uncommon” for Russian aircraft to intercept US aircraft over the Black Sea, adding there had been other intercepts in recent weeks. But Tuesday’s episode was unique in how “unsafe, unprofessional and reckless” the Russian actions were, Kirby said . Feng Yujun, a Russian affairs specialist at Fudan University, said the incident was a Russian warning about US military deployment in the Black Sea region and its support for Ukraine. “However, judging from the strength comparison between Russia and the United States, including Russia’s current domestic situation, it is impossible for Russia to launch direct large-scale provocations against the US, or even trigger direct conflicts between the two sides,” Feng said. The US response has been “restrained” so far, he said, noting Washington had not threatened force against Russia in retaliation. “This matter will not trigger a direct conflict between Russia and the US as such a conflict would not benefit the national interests of the US,” he said. Putin orders Ukraine border tightening as drones hit Russia Meanwhile, China has confirmed that it will hold joint maritime military exercises with Iran, Russia and other countries in the Gulf of Oman between Wednesday and Sunday. According to a statement released by China’s defence ministry on Wednesday, the naval drills, dubbed “Security Ties-2023”, will be a continuation of the China-Iran-Russia exercises held in 2019 and 2022. It did not name the other countries involved. The Chinese guided-missile destroyer Nanning will take part in the exercise, which will focus on air searches, sea rescues and a sea parade, the ministry said. “This exercise will help deepen the practical cooperation between the navies … further demonstrate the willingness and ability to jointly maintain maritime security … and inject positive energy into regional peace and stability,” the statement said.