MOSCOW (AP) — Russian fighter pilots involved in an incident with a US drone will be given state awards, the defense ministry announced Friday, a move signaling Moscow’s intention to take a more aggressive approach to US surveillance in the future. flights.
The US military said it sunk an Air Force MQ-9 Reaper in the Black Sea on Tuesday after a pair of Russian fighter jets dumped fuel on the surveillance drone and then one of them blew off its propellers as it flew into an international airport. was flying in the airspace. Moscow has denied that its warplanes shot down the drone, alleging that it crashed while performing a maneuver. It said its warplanes responded to violations of the no-flight zone Russia has established over the region near Crimea amid fighting in Ukraine.
On Friday, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu praised the pilots for preventing the drone from flying over an area Moscow has banned flights from. The Defense Ministry said the ban was “in line with international norms”.
Moscow’s announcement comes a day after the US military 42 seconds of unclassified color footage released A Russian Su-27 fighter jet is shown coming up behind a US drone and dropping fuel as it passes, which appears to be aimed at blinding the drone’s optical instruments to drive it from the area.
On the second approach, either the same jet or another Russian Su-27 that was shadowing the MQ-9 hit the drone’s propeller, damaging a blade, according to the US military, which said it caused the aircraft to crash into the sea. dropped in The video excerpt does not show the collision, although it does show damage to the propeller.
Top American and Russian defense and military leaders spoke about the destruction of the drone on Wednesday, underscoring the seriousness of the incident. The call was the first since October between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov.
The White House also tried to avoid downplaying the tensions, calling out Russia for “reckless” actions. US officials insisted they have not been able to determine whether the Russian pilot intentionally downed the US drone and insisted that lines of communication with Moscow remain open.
Russian officials also stressed the need to maintain lines of communication, but they harshly condemned the US action as an arrogant defiance of Moscow’s no-flight zone.
“This is a clear sign that Russia will continue to shoot down US drones,” pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov wrote in a comment on the award announcement. “This decision will receive a strong support from Russian society which wants the government to toughen its policy.”
Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern about US intelligence flights close to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 amid strong international condemnation. The Kremlin has accused the US and its allies of effectively engaging in the conflict by providing weapons and sharing intelligence with Kiev.
Some Russian officials alleged that American surveillance flights helped gather intelligence that allowed Ukraine to attack Russian targets.