KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Pentagon on Thursday released footage of what it said was a Russian aircraft pouring fuel on a U.S. Air Force surveillance drone and clipping the drone’s propeller 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.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have spoken to their Russian counterparts about the destruction of the U.S. drone following the encounter with Russian fighter jets.
The calls with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov on Wednesday were the first since October.
While intercept attempts are not uncommon, the incident amid the war in Ukraine has raised concerns it could bring the United States and Russia closer to direct conflict.
That the two countries’ top defense and military leaders were talking so soon after the encounter over the Black Sea underscored its seriousness.
The Russian Defense 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 Russian Defense Ministry said, warning that Moscow “will respond in kind to all provocations.”
The MQ-9, which has a 66-foot (20-meter) 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.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the incident occurred at 7:03 a.m. Central European time (0603 GMT; 2:03 a.m. EST) 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 added.
The U.S. has not recovered the crashed drone, U.S. Air Forces-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 drone, which they said crashed into waters that were 4,000 to 5,000 feet (1,200 to 1,500 meters) 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.
Hazell contributed from Washington.