Pentagon says declassified footage shows Russian Su-27 approaching the back of MQ-9 drone and beginning to release fuel as it passes.
The United States military has released footage it says is of an unsafe interception of a US drone by a Russian jet over the Black Sea.
The US on Tuesday alleged that a Russian Su-27 fighter jet struck one of its Reaper drones during a surveillance and reconnaissance mission, forcing US operators to bring it down in international waters. Russia denied it deliberately brought the unmanned aerial vehicle down.
VIDEO: Two #Russian Su-27s conducted an unsafe & unprofessional intercept w/a @usairforce intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 operating w/i international airspace over the #BlackSea March 14. https://t.co/gMbKYNtIeQ @HQUSAFEAFAF @DeptofDefense @NATO pic.twitter.com/LB3BzqkBpY
— U.S. European Command (@US_EUCOM) March 16, 2023
The declassified 42-second footage released by the US European Command shows the Su-27 fighter jet approaching the back of the MQ-9 drone and dumping fuel near it, in what US officials said was an apparent attempt to blind its optical instruments.
The released excerpt also shows the loss of the video feed after another close Russian maneuver, which the Pentagon said resulted from the Russian jet’s collision with the drone. It ends with images of the drone’s damaged propeller, which the Pentagon says resulted from the collision, making the aircraft inoperable.
Russia has denied US accusations that its jets acted recklessly in what was the first direct US-Russian incident since the war in Ukraine began last year. Instead, it has blamed “sharp maneuvering” by the drone for the crash, claiming its jet did not make contact.
Commenting on the video, Samir Puri, a visiting lecturer in war studies at King’s College London, said he did not think it was possible to determine with certainty whether the encounter was intentional or accidental.
“If the Russian pilot intended to physically knock out this drone, as in fly so close to it to actually touch his own aircraft, that’s an extremely risky maneuver for that pilot,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I still think on balance this may have been something that Russians would do to pass very closely, to demonstrate, of course, that they want to show that they have mastery over these skies and that the Americans, they can’t fly these intelligence flights undisturbed.”
While intercept attempts are not uncommon, the incident amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns it could bring Kyiv backer Washington and Moscow closer to direct conflict.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley on Wednesday spoke to their Russian counterparts, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov, about the incident.
The Russian defense ministry, in its report of the call with Austin that Shoigu, accused the US of provoking the incident by ignoring flight restrictions the Kremlin had imposed because of its military operations in Ukraine.
Russia also blamed “the intensification of intelligence activities against the interests of the Russian Federation”.
Such US actions “are fraught with the escalation of the situation in the Black Sea area”, the ministry said, warning that Russia “will respond in kind to all provocations”.
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