The Pentagon just released initial footage from the surveillance drone that crashed over the Black Sea due to seemingly deliberate Russian interference. Video shows Russian fighter jets flying close to the unmanned drone and dumping fuel reserves on it.
The video clip, which came in around 40 seconds, seemingly resolves the dispute over what took place in the Tuesday incident. Tensions between Washington and Moscow continue to rise amidst the war in Ukraine.
In the video, two Russian fighter jets make high-speed passes; they both spray fuel on the drone during the passes. The US military acknowledged the Russian jets made other passes, too; what’s captured on video shows the final passes before the drone crashed.
During the second approach, the US military said one fighter jet collided with the drone. However, this impact isn’t visible in the footage. But the impact did take the American drone’s camera feed down for about 60 seconds.
Once the video returns, one of the drone’s propellers looks visibly damaged. Russia had previously denied sabotaging the US drone, claiming it lost control “as a result of a sharp maneuver” and crashed into the sea without Russian involvement.
Both sides take the matter very seriously, though: in fact, the incident reportedly prompted a rare phone call on Wednesday between US defense secretary Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.
Russian military officials called the drone’s presence “provocative”
The US chair of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, also informed his Russian counterpart that America took the incident extremely seriously. The US State Department even demanded the Russian ambassador appear publicly on behalf of the country to denounce the crash. The Biden administration has described the incident as “unsafe”, “unprofessional” and “reckless.”
The US military admitted that it edited the video released for length, but claimed it did not alter the sequential order of events. Military officials have also said two Russian fighter jets flew near the MQ-9 for about 30 to 40 minutes before one of the jets collided with it and caused the crash — implying that the incident was not an accident.
Russia’s defense ministry released their own intel on Wednesday, asserting that Shoigu told Austin the incident took place because the US violated Russia’s flight restriction zone off the coast of Crimea. Moscow annexed that coast in 2014. Shoigu allegedly described the US drone flights as “provocative” and serving as “prerequisites for escalation.”
Russia, he continued, did not care to escalate, but would continue to “respond proportionately to all provocations.” Ukrainian national security chief Oleksiy Danilov said the incident implied the Kremlin’s “readiness to expand the conflict zone.” The United States has sent over $100 billion in support to Ukraine thus far in this proxy war.