The United States military on Thursday released a video of what it said was a Russian fighter jet releasing fuel onto an American drone. The incident took place in international airspace. U.S. military officials said the Russian jet also hit the drone’s propeller and caused it to crash into the Black Sea.
The incident heightened tensions between Russia and the U.S. over the war in Ukraine.
The 42-second video shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of the MQ-9 Reaper drone and releasing fuel as it passes, U.S. officials said. The action appeared to be aimed at disabling the drone’s camera to drive it from the area.
On a second approach, either the same jet or another Russian fighter then hit the drone’s propeller. This caused the unmanned aircraft to crash into the sea.
The video does not show events before or after the incident and does not show the Russian warplane striking the drone.
Russia had claimed that its fighters did not strike the drone. Russian officials said the unmanned vehicle went down after making a sharp movement.
Russia and NATO member countries regularly intercept each other’s warplanes. But the drone incident marked the first time since the Cold War that a U.S. aircraft went down as a result of such action. The incident also raises concerns that it could bring the United States and Russia closer to direct conflict.
The incident was serious enough that top U.S. and Russian defense and military leaders spoke with each other on Wednesday.
The calls between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, as well as between Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley and General Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russian General Staff, were the first since October.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s report of the call said that Shoigu accused the U.S. of causing the incident by ignoring Russia’s flight restrictions in the area. Russia argues that by providing weapons and sharing intelligence with Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies have effectively been involved in the war.
The wings of the unmanned MQ-9 are 20 meters wide. It operates using a ground control station and satellite equipment. The drone also can carry weapons. But a Defense spokesperson would not say whether the drone had been armed.
The video’s release is the latest example of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden making public intelligence findings related to the war. The administration has said it wants to highlight Russian activity and misinformation, so allies remain clear about Russian aims.
Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the decision of whether or not to recover the wreckage was up to the military. “If they consider it necessary to do so in the Black Sea for the benefit of our interests and our security, they will do it,” he said. Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said Wednesday that an attempt would be made.
U.S. officials have said that nothing of military value would remain from the drone even if Russia managed to recover the wreckage. They left open the possibility of trying to recover parts of the $32 million aircraft, which they said crashed into waters that were 1,200 to 1,500 meters deep. The U.S., however, does not have any ships in the area.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.