Russian fighter pilots involved in the US drone crash will receive a state award, the Russian Defense Ministry announced on the 17th. This indicates that Russia will take a more aggressive stance against US reconnaissance flights in the future.
The US military said two Russian warplanes sprayed fuel on a US reconnaissance drone over the Black Sea on the 14th, after which one rammed the drone’s propeller, causing it to crash the MQ-9 Reaper. Russia denies a collision with a US drone and has accused the US drone of invading Russia’s no-fly zone.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu praised Russian fighter pilots on the 17th for preventing US drones from flying in the Russian-imposed no-fly zone. Russia argued that these actions were in accordance with international norms.
Russia’s announcement of a pilot award came a day after the US military released a video of a Russian fighter jet refueling a US drone.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov held a phone call on the 15th for the first time since October last year to discuss the seriousness of the incident.
Meanwhile, pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov said of the announcement of the award to fighter pilots, “It’s a clear sign that Russia will continue to shoot down US drones.”
Russia has repeatedly expressed concern over US reconnaissance flights over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Russia also accused the US and its allies of effectively intervening in the war by supplying weapons and sharing information to Ukraine.
Some Russian officials have accused the US reconnaissance flights of helping Ukraine gather information that could allow it to attack Russian targets.