Russian jet dumps fuel on U.S. drone in video released by Pentagon
Incident has sparked concerns that U.S. and Russia could be brought closer to direct conflict
The Pentagon has released footage of what it says is a Russian aircraft conducting an unsafe intercept of a U.S. air force surveillance drone 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 its 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.
Possible recovery of drone
Russia said its warplanes didn't strike the drone and claimed the unmanned aerial vehicle went down after making a sharp manoeuvre over the sea.
Asked Thursday if Russia would try to recover the drone debris, Kremlin spokesperson 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.
Russia and NATO member countries routinely intercept each other's warplanes, but the drone incident marked the first time since the Cold War that a U.S. aircraft went down during such a confrontation, raising concerns it could bring the United States and Russia closer to a direct conflict.
Moscow has repeatedly voiced concern about U.S. intelligence flights near the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and illegally annexed.
The top U.S. and Russian defence and military leaders spoke Wednesday about the destruction of the drone, underscoring the event's seriousness.
Calls between U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russian General Staff, were the first since October.
WATCH | U.S. says video is evidence contact happened between Russian jet and U.S. drone:
The Russian Defence 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.
Russia also blamed "the intensification of intelligence activities against the interests of the Russian Federation."
Such U.S. actions "are fraught with escalation of the situation in the Black Sea area," the Defence Ministry said, warning that Russia "will respond in kind to all provocations."
Sergei Aksenov, the Moscow-appointed head of Crimea, said he thinks Russia should act even more forcefully to put an end the U.S. surveillance flights in the area.
"I personally think that our response in such situations should be tougher," Aksenov said on his messaging app channel. "We realize that attempted attacks on Crimea have been launched with Americans' guidance. In fact, they are a warring party."
The MQ-9, which has a 20-metre wingspan, includes a ground control station and satellite equipment. It is capable of carrying munitions, but Air Force Brig.-Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, would not say whether the ditched drone had been armed.
Ryder said the incident occurred at 7:03 a.m. Central European time over international waters, and well clear of Ukraine, after the Russian jets had flown in the vicinity of the drone for 30 to 40 minutes.
There did not appear to be any communications between the aircraft before the collision, Ryder said.
The U.S. has not recovered the crashed drone, U.S. Air Forces in Europe said in a statement, and neither has Russia, Ryder said. Russian officials said Wednesday that they would try to salvage fragments of the MQ-9 from the Black Sea.
U.S. officials have left open the possibility of trying to recover portions of the downed $32-million US drone, which they said crashed into waters that were 1,200 to 1,500 metres deep.
Other U.S. officials said the U.S. does not have military ships in the region, and won't likely seek to recover wreckage.
However, they expressed confidence that there would be nothing left of military value on the drone if Russia manages to retrieve the wreckage.