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Why aren't we talking about Russia almost downing a UK spy plane?

An incident that could have triggered NATO’s defense clause has been all but ignored on US television news programs.

Analysis | Reporting | Europe

A major concern about the increasing U.S. and NATO role in the war in Ukraine is that it could spiral out of control into a wider, much larger, and direct conflict with Russia, one that has the potential to go nuclear. 

That possibility was narrowly avoided last September when a Russian fighter jet nearly shot down a British spy plane over the Black Sea. 

While UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace disclosed a version of this incident back in October, the actual details are much more worrying than what he presented, according to classified documents that an air national guardsman allegedly leaked through a Discord chat.   

The Washington Post first reported on the incident on April 9, calling it a “near miss,” and that it was “more significant than was previously disclosed.” The New York Times followed up three days later with two U.S. defense officials confirming the story and providing more detail:  

…the Russian pilot had misinterpreted what a radar operator on the ground was saying to him and thought he had permission to fire. The pilot, who had locked on the British aircraft, fired, but the missile did not launch properly.

So if we were one malfunctioning missile away from this war taking a more catastrophic turn with the United States more directly involved, why haven’t we heard much about it? 

Shouldn’t a near miss incident such as this one perhaps give us pause to think more deeply about how miscommunications like this one could bring this war to the next escalatory level?

“This exceptionally dangerous incident emphasizes the need both for the avoidance of needless provocations, and for clear agreed rules to manage and avoid potential clashes,” said Anatol Lieven, Eurasia Program Director at the Quincy Institute. 

While the story has made the rounds on print media, mainstream television news has almost entirely ignored it. According to a search of LexisNexis and TV Eyes, the story was mentioned briefly on ABC’s World News Now and America This Morning, and MSNBC’s Way Too Early — all three programs that air in the middle of the night or very early morning — one day after the Post report. But that’s it. No other cable or network television news program has covered it, not even after the Times confirmed it with more details. 

Focusing almost exclusively on the details of the Discord leaks — a 21-year-old reservist trying to impress his younger friends with classified information — probably does make for good TV — but not if it comes at the expense of a more sober look at what these documents actually reveal, especially about the U.S.-role in the devastating war in Ukraine.

Handout - The US military's European Command has released footage of the Tuesday encounter between a US surveillance drone and a Russian fighter jet as it played out over the Black Sea. The newly declassified video depicts critical moments in the mid-air encounter, which the Pentagon said lasted 30-40 minutes. The video shows the camera of the MQ-9 Reaper drone pointed backward toward its tail and the drone’s propeller, which is mounted on the rear, spinning. Then, a Russian Sukhoi SU-27 fighter jet is shown approaching. As it draws closer, the Russian fighter dumps fuel as it intercepts the US drone. In another portion of the footage, the Russian jet makes another pass. As it approaches, it again dumps fuel. The video from the drone is then disrupted as the Russian fighter jet collides with the MQ-9 Reaper, damaging the propeller and ultimately forcing the US to bring down the drone in the Black Sea. Russia has denied that a collision occurred. When the camera comes back online in the footage, the view is again pointed backward, and the propeller is shown damaged from the collision. Video grab U.S. European Command via ABACAPRESS.COM
Analysis | Reporting | Europe
Chris Murphy Ben Cardin

Photo Credit: viewimage and lev radin via

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