US Says Video Of Drone Encounter Shows Russia ‘Flat-Out Lying’
The Biden administration released dramatic footage of an encounter between Russian fighter jets and an American surveillance drone as the US sought to show that Russia was lying with claims that its warplane never hit the pilotless craft.
(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration released dramatic footage of an encounter between Russian fighter jets and an American surveillance drone as the US sought to show that Russia was lying with claims that its warplane never hit the US aircraft.
The 42-second video, filmed from the bottom of the MQ-9 Reaper, shows a jet approach in a clear blue sky, release a plume of fuel then swerve away.
The video then cuts to what the US says is a second Russian plane approaching the drone. It releases its fuel, nears the drone, and then the video breaks up. When the video returns, it shows the drone flying with a bent propeller.
Russia has continued to insist that its jets didn’t come into contact with the drone and that the Reaper crashed “as a result of sharp maneuvering.” At the same time, Russian officials said their vessels were racing to recover the aircraft.
The decision to declassify and release the footage was meant to rebut Russia’s claims. The US says the drone was in international airspace at the time of the encounter, and that its pilot crashed it into the Black Sea, where it broke up in 4,000-5,000 feet of water.
“It is not uncommon at all for us to release imagery of these intercepts,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday. “We’ve done it plenty of times before — I think you all know that — to lay bare and to make clear to the rest of the world the manner in which the Russians have been just flat-out lying about their accounts.”
The episode exacerbated tensions between the two nuclear-armed adversaries, and Kirby’s remarks were only the latest in an escalating war of words. The two nations’ relationship has broken down entirely since President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine in February, 2022, and the latest encounter raised fears that the US could be directly drawn into fighting and turn the conflict into a wider war.
Many questions remain about the drone, including where exactly it was before it crashed and what it was monitoring. Russia’s navy has a fleet based in the Black Sea, with its headquarters in the city of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Along with weapons, ammunition and training, the US has provided Ukraine with intelligence — including that gleaned from its fleet of surveillance drones like the MQ-9 Reaper — in an effort to blunt Russia’s advantage in troop numbers, artillery shells and other assets.
On Thursday, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said his country would send four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in the coming days as the nation moves ahead with deliveries to bolster Kyiv’s air power. That move will address the fact that Russian jets face no air-to-air challenge in Ukraine’s skies.
Speaking at the Pentagon, Defense Department spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder made no secret about why the US released the video.
“Our words and our actions speak for themselves, and similarly, Russia’s inaccurate information, false information, obfuscation, grasping at straws, changing narratives also speaks for itself,” Ryder told reporters. “So we’re going to stay focused on the facts and we’re going to stay focused on our mission.”
US officials have said they would continue to fly drones in international airspace despite what they call Russia’s aggressive behavior. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, in a bid to defuse tension over the incident.
In its initial statement about the incident on Wednesday, Russia’s defense ministry said the drone’s transponder was turned off and that it flew into the airspace where Russia had declared a military operation. Moscow will try to retrieve the drone, according to Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council. He told a state television reporter he wasn’t sure if that would be possible but “it’s definitely true that we need to and are trying.”
Officials have sought to steer away from the possibility of broader conflict, with Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying Wednesday he didn’t know if the Russian jet intentionally struck the drone. Other US officials also refused to be drawn on that point.
“As far as an act of war goes — I’m not going to go there,” Milley said when asked by a reporter about the possibility. “We do not seek armed conflict with Russia.”
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.