Russia awards state award to fighter pilots who shot down US drone
Russia’s Defense Ministry has said it has honored the Su-27 pilots who destroyed a US MQ-9 Reaper drone this week, causing it to crash into the Black Sea. The Putin government made the decision despite criticism from Western officials, who called the action “unsafe and unprofessional”.
“Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented state awards to Su-27 pilots who prevented an American MQ-9 drone from violating (Russia’s) temporary airspace,” the ministry said.
Washington released footage on Thursday that it said showed Russian military jets impacting the drone, but Moscow says the plane was shot down after it lost control.
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The confrontation escalated tensions between Moscow and Washington and prompted a rare phone call between senior US and Russian military officials.
Moscow has said it has established airspace restrictions over the Black Sea as part of its military intervention in Ukraine in accordance with international norms.
On Friday, Moscow reiterated that the pilots “did not use on-board weapons, had no contact with the UAV and returned safely to their home airspace.”
Moscow also reiterated that the drone crashed “at approximately 0930 Moscow time (0630 GMT) as a result of a sharp maneuver.”
The United States uses MQ-9s to conduct surveillance and strikes and has long conducted operations over the Black Sea, tracking Russian naval forces.
Washington said after the incident that it would “continue to fly and operate wherever international law allows.”
(with inputs from agencies)