Russia Warns 'Conflict' Could Break Out Any Time As U.S. and Iran Fight Over Drones

Russia has warned that mounting tensions in the Persian Gulf could lead to an all-out confrontation as the United States and Iran argue over competing claims regarding the downing of one another's drones and other instances of unrest.

President Donald Trump first revealed Thursday that Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer "took defensive action against an Iranian drone which had closed into a very near distance, approximately 1000 yards, ignoring multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship's crew." The president said that "the drone was immediately destroyed" and urged international support against Iran in the Persian Gulf.

Russia, which joined China, the European Union, France, Germany and the United Kingdom in continuing to support a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran abandoned by last year by the Trump administration, has repeatedly called on both sides to de-escalate, but has especially blamed the U.S. for an increasingly dire situation in the region. On Friday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow had "taken note of" Trump's recent remarks.

"The concentration of manpower and materiel belonging to various countries in the Persian Gulf region is so high that any incidents are possible. The most important thing is to prevent the escalation scenario," Ryabkov said, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency. "We can see once again that the situation is not just explosive. It is fraught with an outbreak of conflict."

us iran navy drone footage gulf
A still from footage released July 9 by Iran's Revolutionary Guards is purported to show one of their drones monitoring the movements of the U.S. Navy's Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, which President Donald Trump claimed shot down an Iranian drone the previous day in the Strait of Hormuz. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Iran has denied losing the drone and Tehran's envoy to the United Nations even joked Friday that the U.S. may have taken out its own device. The Revolutionary Guards then published footage Friday purporting to show the unmanned aerial system in action and unharmed as it surveilled the USS Boxer and five other U.S. warships in the region.

Trump had said earlier Friday, however, that there was "no doubt" that the U.S. knocked out the Iranian drone and his national security adviser John Bolton also said there was "no question" about it. Trump also told reporters that he was not concerned about the possibility of a clash because the U.S. has the "greatest" and "most deadly ships."

"We hope for their sake they don't do anything foolish," Trump said. "If they do, they will pay a price like nobody's ever paid a price."

The news came less than a month after the Revolutionary Guards shot down a state-of-the-art, high-flying U.S. Navy drone also flying in the Persian Gulf region. The Pentagon argued the device remained in international airspace, while Iran claimed the device entered its sovereign territory, a narrative later backed by Russia's own national security chief, Nikolai Patrushev.

Russia was not alone in calling for calm in the region. After Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered to ratify a nuclear deal protocol allowing nuclear inspections ahead of schedule in exchange for a lifting of U.S. sanctions, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang called on Washington to "respond positively, abandon the wrong practices of putting extreme pressure on Iran, avoid obstructing the implementation of comprehensive agreements, respect the legitimate rights and interests of all parties, and create conditions for resolving mutual concerns on the basis of mutual respect and equal dialogue."

stena impero oil tanker iran
The U.K.-flagged Stena Impero is seen in this still from a promotional video. Iran said on July 19 it seized the oil tanker for an unspecified violation of the law. Tommy Chia/Stena

Just hours after the Revolutionary Guards published the surveillance footage, they announced they had also seized the U.K.-flagged Steno Impero oil tanker due to unspecified "non-observance of laws and regulations" in the Strait of Hormuz. The vessel was said to have been transported to shore to be prepared for "legal procedures and the necessary inspections."

Iran has repeatedly threatened to retaliate to the U.K.'s seizure in Gibraltar of Iranian supertanker Grace 1, which was accused of attempting to transport oil to Syria—an apparent violation of EU sanctions. The U.S. previously accused the Revolutionary Guards of attempting to capture the British Heritage earlier this month, only for them to be chased off by the U.K.'s Duke-class of frigate HMS Montrose.

Iran has denied any involvement in the incident, or in two series of attacks against commercial vessels of various nations in the nearby Gulf of Oman. The Revolutionary Guards did, however, detain another, smaller UAE-based vessel accused of smuggling oil less than a week ago and media reports have suggested that Iranian forces may have seized a second ship Friday, a Liberian-flagged vessel owned by the U.K.