By KARL RITTER and DINO HAZELL Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Pentagon on Thursday released footage of what it said was a Russian aircraft pouring fuel on a U.S. Air Force surveillance drone and clipping the drone’s propeller in international airspace over the Black Sea.
The 42-second video shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of the MQ-9 drone and beginning to release fuel as it passes, the Pentagon said. Dumping the fuel appeared to be aimed at blinding the drone’s optical instruments and driving it out of the area.
On a second approach, either the same jet or another Russian fighter that had been shadowing the MQ-9 struck the drone’s propeller, damaging one blade, according to the U.S. military.
The U.S. military said it ditched the MQ-9 Reaper in the sea after what it described as the Russian fighter making an unsafe intercept of the unmanned aerial vehicle.
The video excerpt released by the Pentagon does not show events before or after the apparent fuel-dumping confrontation.
Russia said its warplanes didn’t strike the drone and claimed the unmanned aerial vehicle went down after making a sharp maneuver over the sea.
Asked Thursday if Russia would try to recover the drone debris, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the decision 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 Moscow would try to recover the drone fragments.
U.S. officials have expressed confidence that nothing of military value would remain from the drone even if Russia managed to retrieve the wreckage.
While intercept attempts are not uncommon, the incident amid the war in Ukraine has raised concerns it could bring the United States and Russia closer to a direct conflict.
Moscow has repeatedly voiced concern about U.S. intelligence flights close to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and illegally annexed.
The top U.S. and Russian defense and military leaders spoke Wednesday about the encounter over the Black Sea, underscoring its seriousness.
The calls between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russian General Staff, were the first since October.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in its report of the call with Austin that Shoigu accused the U.S. of provoking the incident by ignoring flight restrictions the Kremlin had imposed because of its military operations in Ukraine.
The Kremlin argues that by providing weapons to Ukraine and sharing intelligence information with Kyiv, the U.S. and its allies have effectively become engaged in the war, which is now in its 13th month.
Russia also blamed “the intensification of intelligence activities against the interests of the Russian Federation,” the Defense Ministry said.
Such U.S. actions “are fraught with escalation of the situation in the Black Sea area,” the ministry said, warning that Moscow “will respond in kind to all provocations.”
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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment