The Russian Defence Ministry has awarded state honors to the two fighter pilots who downed a US surveillance drone over the Black Sea, according to a statement. Meanwhile, the US has announced that it has resumed spy flights in the region.
At a ceremony on Friday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu praised the Su-27 pilots for their achievement in preventing the drone from entering an area near Crimea, which Russia has prohibited access to.
Russia’s Defence Ministry stated that the drone violated the temporary airspace usage regime established for the special military operation by flying with its transponders off, according to The Moscow Times.
Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov saw the awarding of the pilots as a clear indication that Russia would continue to down US drones. The move is expected to gain strong support from Russian society, which wants the government to take a tougher stance, he added.
The presentation of the awards occurred a day after the US military released a 42-second video clip showing the Russian Su-27 fighter jets intercepting the drone and attempting to damage its optical and hi-tech instruments by dumping fuel during close passes.
According to The Moscow Times, Russian state media reported that the wreckage of the MQ-9 Reaper drone, which was allegedly downed by a Russian jet, was found in the Black Sea, some 60km (37 miles) from the Crimean port city of Sevastopol at a depth of 850-900 meters (2,788-2,952 feet).
While the US military said the drone was struck by a Russian jet, Russia denied causing any physical harm to the drone, alleging it crashed while making a sharp manoeuvre.
Although Moscow and Washington initially exchanged strong words, both sides emphasized the need to maintain communication after the incident, even as Russia criticized the US for conducting surveillance flights near its borders and sharing military intelligence with Ukraine to attack Russian forces.