The Kremlin trolled the United States on Friday by handing out state awards to Russian fighter pilots who shot down a US surveillance drone over the Black Seat this week.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented awards to the pilots of two Su-27 fighter jets who intercepted the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone, cut off its propeller and dumped fuel on it before it swooped down collapsed on Tuesday, according to the American account.
The incident marked the first known direct military encounter between Russia and the United States since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Announcing the honors, the Shoigu ministry repeated Russia’s official version of events – strongly disputed by Washington – that the planes made no physical contact with the drone.
“Following abrupt maneuvers…the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle entered uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the surface of the water,” said a press release shared on the Ministry’s Telegram channel.
“The Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle, and returned safely to their base airfield,” the statement continued.
According to the ministry, the drone was flying with its transponders turned off and in violation of airspace restrictions that Russia had made public in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.
The Pentagon had said Russian fighter jets sided with its MQ-9 Reaper during a reconnaissance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace. He said the fighters harassed the drone and made contact with it, causing it to crash.
The DoD released a dramatic 40-second video on Thursday showing a Russian fighter jet approaching the drone, fuel being jettisoned nearby and a propeller subsequently damaged.