Russia honors pilots for downing US drone Moscow claims to have ‘fallen’ on its own

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on Friday that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented the pilots of two Su-27 jet fighters with awards on Tuesday for intercepting and crashing a US drone over the Black Sea.

United States European Command (EUCOM) said the MQ-9 “Reaper” drone crashed after the two Russian Su-27s “carried out a dangerous and unprofessional interception”, during which the propeller of the MQ-9 hit one of the Russian planes . The drone was flying in international airspace at the time of the incident.

This still from video released Thursday, March 16, 2023 shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the rear 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 United States released declassified video of the encounter which showed the Russian planes dumping fuel on the Reaper before colliding with its propeller. The video did not capture the moment of the collision, but it did show the damaged propeller afterwards.

US European Command/LOCAL NEWS X/TMX

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said the video clearly showed that the “aggressive behavior” of the Russian pilots was intentional.

FILE - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on November 16, 2022. New expanded combat training for U.S. Army Ukrainian forces has begun in Germany on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, with a goal of bringing a battalion of around 500 troops back to the battlefield to fight the Russians within the next five to eight weeks, Milley said. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a ceremony for Russian Navy Day in St. Petersburg July 30, 2017. - President Vladimir Putin oversaw a pompous display of power Russia's naval force as the Kremlin paraded its sea power from the Baltic Sea to the shores of Syria. Some 50 warships and submarines were on display along the Neva River and in the Gulf of Finland off the country's second city, St Petersburg, after Putin ordered the navy to stage 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)

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 cut off, violated Russian “airspace restrictions” unilaterally imposed as part of the “special military operation” in Ukraine, and crashed on its own after having carried out “sudden manoeuvres”.

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

“It is a clear sign that Russia will continue to shoot down American drones. This decision will receive strong support from Russian society, which wants the government to toughen up its policies,” pro-Kremlin commentator Sergei Markov proclaimed on Friday.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Shoigu told US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a phone call on Wednesday that Russia attributed the crash to “US actions of non-compliance with the flight restriction zone declared by the Russian Federation” and to “the intensification of reconnaissance activities against the interests of the Russian Federation.


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