The U.S. military has released newly declassified video footage that it says shows a Russian fighter jet harassing and colliding with an American drone over the Black Sea. The video, filmed from the drone’s onboard camera, was released by the U.S. European Command on Thursday morning.
According to U.S. officials, the Russian Su-27 fighter jet conducted an “unsafe/unprofessional intercept of a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 in international airspace” earlier this week. The Kremlin leadership reportedly approved the aggressive actions of the two Russian jets involved in the incident, in an apparent effort to throw the drone off course or disable its surveillance capabilities.
While Russia has denied its planes came into contact with the drone and accused the United States of conducting “hostile” surveillance flights near its borders to help Ukraine, the U.S. military maintains that the video shows the events in sequential order.
The video shows one of the Russian jets approaching the drone before twice releasing a long plume of fuel into the air while passing. At the 29-second mark, the jet appears to collide with the MQ-9 Reaper drone, causing visible damage to one of the drone’s propellers.
Three U.S. officials familiar with the relevant intelligence said that the highest levels of power within the Kremlin approved the Russian fighter jets’ aggressive actions in the encounter. However, they also said that the collision was likely not intentional and may have been the result of pilot error.
The incident marks the first known direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine last year, and comes at a time of mounting tensions over Western support for Kyiv. The U.S. has summoned Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov to the State Department to convey strong objections to the incident.
Russia has already dispatched ships and aircraft to the area where the drone crashed in an attempt to recover any debris, but U.S. officials say they have not seen any indication that it has been able to retrieve any of the remnants.
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