Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday that the recent Russian jet collision with a U.S. drone was a “deliberate effort” by Russia, which is testing boundaries with the United States.
“This wasn’t some accident. It wasn’t some harassment effort that, you know, went awry,” Rubio said on “CBS Mornings.”
“This is a direct test of the Biden administration,” he said. “They’re trying to see what the limits are, and it’s a message of their displeasure. But more importantly, I think it’s a test to see if we’ll respond to it, if we’ll continue to fly or if this causes us not to fly in that area anymore.”
Rubio said the U.S. should not be cowed and should continue to send aircraft into the area.
“I think our response would be to fly more of these in that area and potentially have them escorted by U.S. fighter jets, who are manned and have the capability to respond,” Rubio said, adding that flying unmanned drones for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes is “totally” in accordance with international law. “I think we should fly more of them, we shouldn’t stop flying them and in many cases we should be prepared to scramble jets and respond if they are threatened by Russian aircraft.”
Video of the incident, released Thursday morning, shows an unmanned $30 million MQ-9 “Reaper” drone flying over the Black Sea, close to Ukraine. The drone was conducting an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission in international airspace above international waters, U.S. officials said earlier this week. The video, released by the Pentagon, shows a fighter jet pass at close range before making another pass during which it allegedly hit the drone’s propeller.
The Russian jet “dumped fuel upon and struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters,” the Air Force said in a statement accompanying the video.
The drone was crashed into the Black Sea by the U.S. and sensitive data was wiped from the device, according to U.S. officials. Rubio said that while the airspace and the waters it is above are considered international, Russia had declared the airspace restricted.
Rubio also addressed comments from his state’s governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, who recently called the war between Russia and Ukraine a “territorial dispute” and not one of the United States’ “vital national interests.”
The U.S. has to continue to stand with Ukraine, Rubio said, to maintain its position on the global stage.
“Ukraine is not the most important national security issue facing America, but it’s not unimportant. There is a vital interest involved here, and one of them is that we haven’t just invested money in Ukraine, we’ve invested our prestige and our credibility,” Rubio said. “The argument that the Chinese are making is that the West is in terminal decline, the United States is a rapidly-declining, once-great superpower, and they’re not going to do anything, they’re not going to take on China.”
“If we were to cut and run now, if we were to walk away from our commitment to Ukraine, the Chinese would point to that and say to our allies, ‘How are you going to count on the United States? They’re not going to be there. They abandoned Afghanistan chaotically and they … couldn’t sustain an effort in Ukraine against Russia,'” Rubio continued.
Instead, he said, the United States should continue to provide Ukraine with necessary aid. It’s also important, Rubio said, to get “rich countries like Germany to do more” and “do their part” to aid Ukraine, and make sure no money is misspent.
“I don’t think our interest there is zero, and so our effort there should not be zero either,” Rubio said.