Russian experts dashed to the Black Sea to retrieve the wreckage of the American MQ-9 Reaper drone that crashed following its encounter with Russian Su-27 jets.
"I don't know whether we'll be able to retrieve it or not but it has to be done. And we will certainly work on it," Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said in televised remarks.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Russian specialists will retrieve the Reaper from seabed if required for security reasons.
"This is the prerogative of the military. If they deem it necessary to do that in the Black Sea for our interests and for our security, they will deal with that," Peskov told reporters.
Washington meanwhile, said the drone might never be recovered and that steps had been taken to ensure Russia could not gain intelligence from the wreckage.
Depth of water where the Reaper crashed is anywhere between 4,000-5,000 ft (1,200-1,500 m), the U.S. said.
“It has not been recovered. And I'm not sure that we're going to be able to recover it,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN. “Where it fell into the Black Sea — very, very deep water. So we're still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort. There may not be.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. was also searching for the aircraft, but stressed that if Russia beat them to it, "their ability to exploit useful intelligence will be highly minimized.”
“U.S. is taking mitigating measures to ensure there was nothing of value on the downed drone,” top Army General Mark Milley stated.
The U.S. and Russia have conflicting accountsof what transpired on March 14 over the Black Sea, close to the Crimean region. While the U.S. alleged that one of the two the Su-27s dumped fuel on the Reaper and then collided with it; Russia said the drone went into an uncontrolled flight as a result of an abrupt maneuver, lost its altitude and crashed into the water.
“The flights of American strategic UAVs off the coast of Crimea are of a provocative nature, which creates the preconditions for an escalation of the situation in the Black Sea zone," the Russian defense ministry said.
Patrushev said the incident was “further proof that the United States is a direct party to fighting between Moscow and Kyiv and said Russia had a responsibility to defend our independence and our sovereignty."
British and German Typhoon fighters were scrambled on Wednesday to intercept a Russian IL-78 refueling aircraft flying close to Estonia airspace.