In a rare move, the Pentagon has released a de-classified video showing Russia’s intercept of a US military surveillance drone downed over the Black Sea.
It was the first direct US-Russian incident since the Ukraine war began, worsening already tense relations between Washington and Moscow.
In the video, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet comes very close to the US MQ-9 drone and dumps fuel near it, in what US officials say was an apparent effort to damage the American aircraft as it flew over the Black Sea.
It also shows the loss of the video feed after another close Russian manoeuvre, which the Pentagon says 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.
The video had been edited by the US military for length but showed events in sequential order, the Pentagon said.
Russia has denied US accusations that its jets acted recklessly in the incident on Tuesday over the Black Sea, and instead has blamed “sharp manoeuvring” by the drone for the crash, claiming its jet did not make contact.
“It absolutely just decimates the Russian lie about what they said happened or what they said didn’t happen,” White House spokesperson John Kirby said.
“It’s pretty darn obvious when you look at that video that [the] fighter jet hit our drone.”
The incident over international waters was a reminder of the risk of direct confrontation between the US and Russia over Ukraine, which Moscow invaded more than a year ago and which Western allies have supported with intelligence and weapons.
The release of the video followed separate calls on Wednesday between the top US general, Mark Milley, and his Russian counterpart, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, as well as between US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu.
In comments on Wednesday (US time), General Milley said it was clear the intercept and harassment of the drone by Russian jets was intentional, but it was unclear whether the Russian pilots meant to slam their aircraft into the drone – a move that could also put the Russian aircraft at risk.
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