Loss of US drone clipped by Russian jet was a twist in a broader pattern

The forcing down of a US drone by Russian fighter jets over the Black Sea on Tuesday spiraled into a diplomatic incident and fueled concern about the potential for the war in Ukraine to escalate into direct conflict between the two superpowers.

The incident also shone light on a fact of geopolitics that often receives little attention: Close calls, some harrowing, between US and Russian aircraft are not unusual.

The United States and NATO allies often intercept Russian jets flying close to Alaska or to NATO airspace over the Black or Baltic seas. Russia also has intercepted American aircraft in those regions, sometimes swooping close enough to cause turbulence.

This week’s incident “follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with US and allied aircraft over international airspace,” US Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of the US Air Force in Europe and Africa, said in a statement Tuesday.

Crashes caused during intercepts are extremely rare, however, even for drones. Analysts and officials warn that the war in Ukraine has only heightened the stakes.

The US military released a video Thursday of what it says is a Russian fighter jet clipping a US surveillance drone. The United States said the resulting damage forced it to bring the drone down into the Black Sea. Moscow has denied that either fighter hit the drone, and blamed the United States for flying the craft too close to territory in Crimea that Russia claims to have annexed.

Here’s what to know about the history of close encounters between Russia and the United States in the skies:

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