Russia Honors Pilots for Downing U.S. Drone Moscow Claims ‘Fell’ by Itself

INDIAN SPRINGS, NV - NOVEMBER 17: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by the U.S. Mili
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The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Friday that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented the pilots of two Su-27 jet fighters with awards for intercepting and crashing an American drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday.

The U.S. European Command (EUCOM) said the MQ-9 “Reaper” drone crashed after the two Russian Su-27s “conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept,” during which the MQ-9’s propeller struck one of the Russian planes. The drone was flying in international airspace at the time of the incident.

The Associated Press

This photo taken from video released on Thursday, March 16, 2023, shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of the MQ-9 drone and beginning to release fuel as it passes, over the Black Sea, the Pentagon said. (US Department of Defense via AP)

On Thursday, the U.S. released declassified video of the encounter that showed the Russian planes dumping fuel on the Reaper before colliding with its propeller. The video did not capture the moment of collision, but it did show the damaged propeller afterward.

U.S. European Command/ LOCAL NEWS X /TMX

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the video clearly showed the “aggressive behavior” of the Russian pilots was intentional.

FILE - Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on Nov. 16, 2022. The U.S. military's new, expanded combat training of Ukrainian forces began in Germany on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, with a goal of getting a battalion of about 500 troops back on the battlefield to fight the Russians in the next five to eight weeks, Milley said. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

EUCOM said the encounter demonstrated a “lack of competence” by the Russian pilots, noting that the collision could easily have caused the Su-27 to crash along with the unmanned MQ-9.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a ceremony for Russia's Navy Day in Saint Petersburg on July 30, 2017. - President Vladimir Putin oversaw a pomp-filled display of Russia's naval might as the Kremlin paraded its sea power from the Baltic Sea to the shores of Syria. Some 50 warships and submarines were on show along the Neva River and in the Gulf of Finland off the country's second city of Saint Petersburg after Putin ordered the navy to hold its first ever parade on such a grand scale. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP) (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. (OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

The Russians claim the Su-27 did not make contact with the Reaper, contrary to the rather strong impression given by the declassified video. According to the Russians, the drone was flying with its transponders shut off, violated Russian “airspace restrictions” unilaterally imposed in connection with the “special military operation” in Ukraine, and crashed on its own after it performed some “sharp maneuvering.”

Shoigu repeated Moscow’s version of events when presenting “state awards to the Su-27 pilots who prevented an American MQ-9 drone from violating temporary airspace,” as the Russian Defense Ministry put it.

“This is a clear sign that Russia will keep downing American drones. This decision will receive strong support from the Russian society that wants the government to toughen its policy,” pro-Kremlin commentator Sergei Markov proclaimed on Friday.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Shoigu told U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a Wednesday telephone call that Russia blames the crash on “U.S. actions of non-compliance with the flight restriction zone declared by the Russian Federation” and “increased reconnaissance activities against the interests of the Russian Federation.”


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