Two pilots involved in the downing of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea earlier this week were honored by the Russian government, the country’s Defense Ministry announced Friday.
A $32 million U.S. MQ-9 Reaper spy drone was harassed by Russian pilots, who dumped fuel on it before one of the Russian fighter jets collided with the surveillance drone’s propeller — causing U.S. forces to bring the drone down in international waters. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu celebrated the pilots’ actions on Friday, claiming they prevented the drone from flying into an airspace claimed by Russia The Associated Press reported.
U.S. officials released footage of the incident on Thursday showing a Russian Su-27 flying close to the U.S. drone. The footage also revealed damage to the drone’s propeller after the Russian jets flew next to it.
#BREAKING US army published the footage from the drone incident with Russia over the Black Sea pic.twitter.com/ney41fNjGb
— Guy Elster (@guyelster) March 16, 2023
“Two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a U.S. Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft operating within international airspace over the Black Sea on March 14, 2023,” U.S. European Command said in a statement. “Russian Su-27s 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.”
Some Russian officials have accused the U.S. of conducting surveillance flights to help the Ukrainians strike Russian targets, the AP reported. Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev charged that the American surveillance drone’s actions this week were proof of increasingly hostile actions the U.S. has taken toward Russia over the course of Moscow’s war with Ukraine.
“The Americans keep saying that they are not participating in hostilities,” Patrushev claimed during a press conference. “This is yet another confirmation that they are directly involved in these events, in the war.”
The White House called Russia’s actions “reckless” but said it has not determined if the Russian pilots intentionally downed the U.S. drone.
“Incidents happen,” said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “And clearly we do not seek armed conflict with Russia and I believe at this point we should investigate this incident and move on from there.”
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Ryan Saavedra contributed to this report.