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March 15, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

7:59 p.m. ET, March 15, 2023

Analysis: How Russia’s Black Sea drone downing measures up to other confrontations with the US

On Tuesday, a Russian Su-27 fighter forced down a US MQ-9 drone over the Black Sea.

In comments the following day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that relations between Russia and the US had hit their “lowest point.”

But the lowest point since when? With the US and Russia routinely scraping bottom when it comes to bilateral relations, perhaps we need new superlatives to describe how bad things are.

A bit of historical perspective serves as a reminder that confrontation between the two nuclear-armed nations can be much sharper:

The war in Syria. In February 2018, a US contingent on the ground in eastern Syria clashed with a force advancing on their base that included members of the Russian private military company Wagner. US troops called in air strikes and artillery on the opposing force, inflicting dozens of casualties on the Wagner mercenaries and their Syrian allies.

The Cold War. Though the Cold War saw the Cuban missile crisis and several nuclear close calls, it’s less remembered today that the Cold War escalated into a hot one between US and Soviet forces at several points during the decades-long confrontation.

The Korean War. During the Korean War, US fighter pilots engaged in aerial combat against Soviet MiGs. Those dogfights, however, remained shrouded in secrecy, with records quickly classified and participants sworn to secrecy. One of the reasons? Fears that making such incidents public might increase tensions between the two superpowers. The same was also true for manned surveillance flights that the US carried out around — and sometimes over — Soviet territory. The downing of the U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers in 1960 is the most famous case, creating major embarrassment for the United States and stirring worldwide media attention. But most of those programs remained classified, and out of the news, for decades.

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