US releases footage of drone collision over Black Sea

Declassified video images appear to show spraying of fuel, collision and damaged propeller

A photograph taken from video released on March 16th, 2023, shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of a US drone over the Black Sea. Photograph: US Department of Defense

The Pentagon’s European Command on Thursday released the first declassified video images of the events leading up to a Russian fighter jet colliding with an unarmed US reconnaissance drone on Tuesday, forcing the US aircraft down into the Black Sea.

The 42-second colour video clip shows two high-speed passes by two Su-27 fighter jets, each time spraying a substance that the Pentagon says is jet fuel on the United States MQ-9 Reaper drone. The Pentagon has previously said two Russian jets were involved in the incident, and a senior military official said on Thursday that the footage showed one pass from each jet.

On a final pass, one of the Russian jets collides with the drone, the Pentagon says, and the camera feed is lost for about 60 seconds. The footage released by the Pentagon does not show the collision. The video then resumes, showing the aircraft’s damaged propeller, which the Pentagon said was struck by the Russian jet.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday accused Russia of “dangerous and reckless and unprofessional behavior” in blaming Moscow for the downing of the drone. Russia has denied any wrongdoing and initially blamed the crash on faulty manoeuvering by the US drone operators.

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Pentagon officials said on Thursday that the video clip provided visual evidence to support the US version of the episode, the first known physical contact between the Russian and US militaries since the war in Ukraine started last year.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, and turned the Black Sea into an effective battle zone. Russia has blockaded Ukrainian vessels within their own ports, though Ukraine has been able to export its grain across the sea under a deal signed last July between the two warring countries.

The release of the video clip comes a day after Mr Austin had a rare phone call with his Russian counterpart in the aftermath of a collision in what senior Pentagon leaders said was an effort to move quickly to prevent the episode from worsening relations between the two superpowers.

Mr Austin said he called Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, on Wednesday to clear the air. – This article first appeared in the New York Times