Russia to Award State Honors to Pilots Involved in U.S. Drone Incident

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on Friday that it would be awarding state honors to the pilots involved in a recent incident with a U.S. drone that resulted in its crash, The Associated Press reports.

“Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu presented state awards to the Su-27 pilots who prevented an American MQ-9 drone from violating (Russia’s) temporary airspace,” the ministry said.

The U.S. military had reported that it had lost an Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone in the Black Sea on Tuesday after a pair of Russian fighter jets dumped fuel on the surveillance drone.

However, Moscow has denied striking the drone and argues the aircraft crashed while making a sharp maneuver.

On Friday, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu praised the pilots for preventing the drone from entering a no-flight zone established by Russia in the area near Crimea amid the fighting in Ukraine.

The Defense Ministry stated that the ban was “in line with international norms.”

Moscow also repeated its stance that the pilots “did not use on-board weapons, made no contact with the UAV and safely returned to their home airfield.”

This announcement from Moscow follows the Pentagon’s release of a declassified 42-second color footage that showed a Russian Su-27 fighter jet approaching the back of the U.S. drone and releasing fuel as it passed by, seemingly aimed at blinding the drone’s optical instruments to drive it from the area.

White House referred to Russia’s actions as “reckless” but avoided escalating tensions with the country.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, “I can’t point to that video and say this is a deliberate attempt to escalate or … tangibly bring about Putin’s false claim that this is about the West versus Russia.”

“We have made clear on many occasions, we do not seek a conflict with Russia,” he went on to say.