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Russia to award pilots involved in US spy drone incident

A US Air Force 119th Wing MQ-9 Reaper taxis towards the runway for takeoff at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, February 21, 2023. (File photo by US Air Force)

The Russian Defense Ministry says the pilots of Russian jets involved in the crash incident of a US spy drone over the Black Sea last week will be nominated for decoration.

The ministry said they will be awarded for “preventing” a US drone from “violating” international airspace restrictions put in place by Moscow.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu “has put forward for state awards the pilots of the Su-27 aircraft who prevented the US MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle from violating” the restricted flight zone established by Moscow amid the Ukraine conflict, the ministry’s statement read.

The statement added that the borders of the area in question had been made known to all users of international airspace.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon accused Russia of bringing down the surveillance drone, claiming that two Russian jets dumped fuel on the drone and one of them damaged its propeller, accusing Moscow of “unsafe and unprofessional” actions.

The Russian Defense Ministry has denied that it deliberately brought the drone down, saying the Su-27s never came in contact with the Reaper nor did they fire a weapon.

According to RT, the Russian ministry explained that the US drone, flying with its transponders turned off, violated the restricted area, and crashed after “going into uncontrolled flight” as a result of “sharp maneuvers.” 

Shoigu has talked to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin over the matter, blaming increased intelligence gathering against Russia and non-compliance with the restricted flight zone declared by Russia for the incident.

U.S. European Command (EUCOM) released declassified footage of a Russian Su-27 aircraft conducting an unsafe/unprofessional intercept of a United States Air Force MQ-9 in international airspace over the Black Sea, March 14.@usairforce | @US_EUCOM | @DeptofDefense | @NATO


Shoigu also said that operating drone flights near Crimea is provocative, and Russia would react proportionately if need be.

Following the phone conversation, the Pentagon chief claimed that the drone was “conducting routine operations in international airspace,” adding that Washington would “continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows.”

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