US European Command
- Russia decorated the two pilots whose intercept took down a US Reaper drone over the Black Sea.
- US and EU officials have described the incident as “unsafe and unprofessional” on Russia’s part.
- The incident has frayed relations between the Kremlin and Washington DC.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence announced on Friday that it had given awards to the pilots who intercepted a US MQ-9 Reaper drone earlier in the week, resulting in it crashing into the Black Sea.
The pilots of the two Su-27 fighter jets were awarded the decorations by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for preventing the Reaper from violating airspace that Russia says is restricted, according to the Russian ministry.
The accolade comes after US European Command accused the pilots of making an “unsafe and unprofessional” intercept.
On Tuesday, the Su-27s flew recklessly towards the drone and dumped fuel on it, clipping its propellor in the process, the US-EU Command said. The incident forced the Reaper to crash into the Black Sea, increasing tensions between the US and Russia.
The pilots’ moves were described as “amateur hour” by one unnamed US official, according to PBS, while a top US general said on Thursday that it demonstrated Russia’s increasingly aggressive actions, according to Reuters.
Russia’s MOD claimed that the aircrafts did not come into contact with the drone, and that it went down as a result of “sharp maneuvering,” per Reuters’ translation. The pilots did not use airborne weapons, the statement said, without mentioning the use of a fuel dump.
Footage released by the US of the incident, which came from the drone’s onboard camera, appeared to contradict Russia’s claims. The 43-second edited clip shows apparent damage to one of the drone’s propellors after one of the Su-27s passed close by.
Russia claims that the drone was flying with its transponders turned off, and that it was violating airspace restrictions Russia says it made public in relation to its military activities.
The US European command, for its part, said the drone was operating in international airspace.