Russia Awards Fighter Jet Pilots Involved in U.S. Drone Skirmish – The Moscow Times
Russia will award the pilots of Su-27 fighter jets involved in the confrontation with the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone this week, the Defense Ministry said Friday.
The United States accused Russia of an “unsafe” and “unprofessional” intercept of its surveillance drone that forced it to be brought down over the Black Sea on Tuesday.
The Russian military said it had scrambled its air defense unit jets after detecting the U.S. drone but denied causing its crash, saying the unmanned aerial vehicle had lost control.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented state awards to the Su-27 pilots for “preventing” the MQ-9 Reaper from “violating” international airspace restrictions that Russia has placed during the conflict in Ukraine, Russia’s military said in a statement.
“The drone flew with its transponders off, violating the boundaries of the area of the temporary airspace usage regime established for the special military operation [and] communicated to all users of international airspace.”
The incident has ratcheted up tensions between Moscow and Western allies, already soaring over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but top security officials from the United States and Russia have made rare phone calls to address the incident.
The U.S. released a declassified video Thursday showing an Su-27 bearing down on the propeller-driven MQ-9, twice releasing streams of fuel in an apparent effort to harass the drone.
Russia plans to try to retrieve the downed craft but was unsure if the effort would be a success.
State media, citing an unnamed Russian Defense Ministry source familiar with the effort, said the MQ-9 has been detected 60 kilometers from the Crimean port city of Sevastopol at a depth of 850-900 meters.
AFP contributed reporting.