France says Russia threatened to shoot down jets over Black Sea

Russian forces threatened to shoot down French aircraft patrolling international airspace over the Black Sea, France’s defence minister said Thursday.

The announcement is another signal of increasingly aggressive behaviour from Moscow as its invasion of Ukraine grinds on. 

Sébastien Lecornu did not offer specific details about the French flights or aircraft involved in the threatened shoot-down. 

However, he said the incident demonstrated Russia is returning to a “particularly aggressive” posture reminiscent of the former Soviet Union’s behaviour during the Cold War.

“A month ago, to give you a very concrete example, a Russian air traffic control system threatened to shoot down French aircraft in the Black Sea when we were in a free international zone where we patrol,” he said on RTL radio.

“The behaviour of Russia in 2024 bears no relation to what we saw in 2022 and, obviously, before the aggression in Ukraine,” the minister said. “It is explained by the fact that Russia is in difficulty on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

French military spokesman Colonel Pierre Gaudillière explained that Lecornu was referring to an incident in mid-November, which involved one of France’s four giant Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS, surveillance aircraft. 

Gaudillière described the incident as unprecedented for a French flight in that region.

“It was a French AWACS,” flying over international waters in the Black Sea, he detailed.  “Through a radio it exchange, it was threatened by the Russians.

“It was a particularly aggressive radio exchange,” Gaudillière added. “It’s a first.”

Edge of conflict

French air force pilots regularly patrol on the eastern flank of NATO, part of efforts by the 31-nation military alliance to boost its defences since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago come Saturday.

The French flights include long-range patrols by its AWACS surveillance aircraft. 

Flying high above the Black Sea coast, they use their powerful radar and other surveillance gear to peer across to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.

The surveillance flights can spot missile launches, airborne bombing runs and other military activity in the Ukraine conflict.

Russian pilots have previously made clear that they don’t like being watched.

In 2022, a Russian fighter jet released a missile near a British air force RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft that was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea, Britain’s government said.

The US government released video in March 2023 of a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a US Air Force surveillance drone, which then crashed into the Black Sea.

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