The Kremlin trolled the US Friday by handing out state awards to the Russian fighter pilots who brought down an American surveillance drone over the Black Seat this week.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented awards to the pilots of two Su-27 warplanes that intercepted the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone, clipped its propeller and dumped fuel on it before it went down Tuesday, according to the US narrative.
The incident marked the first known direct military encounter between Russia and the US since the start of the Ukraine war.
Announcing the honors, Shoigu’s ministry repeated Russia’s official version of events – strongly disputed by Washington — that the planes did not make any physical contact with the drone.
“As a result of sharp maneuvering… the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface,” a press release shared on the ministry’s Telegram channel stated.
“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 had been flying with its transponders turned off and violating airspace restrictions that Russia had made public in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.
The Pentagon had said the Russian fighter planes sided up to its MQ-9 Reaper during a reconnaissance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace. It said the fighters harassed the drone and made contact with it, causing it to crash.
The DoD on Thursday released a dramatic 40-second edited video showing a Russian fighter jet coming close to the drone, fuel being jettisoned near it, and a damaged propeller in the aftermath.