Pentagon video shows Russian jet dumping fuel on US drone


The Biden administration on Thursday released video of a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a US Air Force surveillance drone. AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini, file

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – The Biden government released video Thursday of a Russian warplane dumping fuel on a US Air Force surveillance drone as the US tried to blame Russia for the collision that crashed the drone into the Black Sea without escalating already tense tensions with the Kremlin.

Poland, meanwhile, announced it is making a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets available to Ukraine, becoming the first NATO member to meet Kiev’s increasingly urgent requests for fighter jets.

The US military’s released 42-second color footage shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the tail of the MQ-9 Reaper drone and releasing fuel as it passes, the Pentagon said. The dumping of the fuel appeared to be aimed at blinding the drone’s optical instruments to drive it out of the area.

On a second approach, either the same jet or another Russian Su-27 that had been shadowing the MQ-9 struck the drone’s propeller, damaging a blade, according to the US military, which said it then set the plane down at sea .

The video excerpt does not show the collision, but it does show the damage to the propeller.

Russia said its fighters did not attack the drone and claims the UAV crashed after a sharp maneuver.

While urging Russia to act “recklessly”, the White House sought to strike a balance to avoid escalating tensions. US officials said they could not determine whether the Russian pilot intentionally hit the American drone, stressing that lines of communication with Moscow remain open.

“I cannot point to this video and say that this is a deliberate attempt to escalate or… specifically provoke Putin’s false claim that this is about the West versus Russia,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the White National Security Council house. “We have made it clear on many occasions that we do not seek conflict with Russia.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin argues that by supplying arms to Ukraine and sharing intelligence with Kiev, the US and its allies have effectively engaged in the war, now in its 13th month.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, said on Wednesday that attempts were being made to recover the debris from the drones.

US officials have expressed confidence that nothing of military value would remain of the drone even if Russia recovered the wreckage. They left open the possibility of recovering parts of the crashed $32 million plane, which they said crashed in waters 4,000 to 5,000 feet (1,200 to 1,500 meters) deep, although the US has no ships have in the area.

Russia and NATO member countries routinely intercept each other’s fighter jets, but Tuesday’s incident marked the first time since the Cold War that a US plane has crashed during such a confrontation, raising concerns that the United States and Russia could direct conflict could come closer.

Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern over US intelligence flights near the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized and illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Top defense and military leaders of the US and Russia spoke on Wednesday about the drone’s destruction, underscoring the seriousness of the event.

Talks between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and between Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov, were the first since October.

The Russian Defense Ministry, in its report on the conversation with Austin, said Shoigu accused the US of provoking the incident by ignoring flight restrictions imposed by the Kremlin over its military operations in Ukraine. The US said the drone was operating in international airspace.

The MQ-9, with a wingspan of 20 meters (66 feet), includes a ground control station and satellite equipment. It is capable of carrying ammunition, but Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to say whether the dropped drone was armed.

The video’s release is the latest example of public intelligence intelligence being gleaned by the Biden administration during the course of the war. The government has said it wants to highlight Russian malicious activities as well as plans for Russian misinformation operations so allies can keep a clear eye on Moscow’s intentions.

The White House delayed Austin’s decision to declassify it, with the Pentagon and President Joe Biden’s national security advisors agreeing that it was important to let the world see what happened, according to an administration official familiar with the decision-making process. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations, said it would take time to go through the declassification process and insisted the government was not concerned tensions with Russia would escalate further.

Because the video doesn’t show the actual collision, some involved in the decision to release the footage wondered if the Russians would use it as proof there was no contact between the jet and the drone, according to another official who was involved familiar with discussions about making it public. Those concerns were allayed when the Pentagon said the video showed the immediate aftermath and damage to the drone’s propeller, which could only have resulted from a collision, according to the second official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal the details .

Separately, Polish President Andrzej Duda said that Warsaw would hand over four Soviet-made MiG-29s to Ukraine “within the next few days” and that the rest would need servicing and would be delivered later. The Polish word he used to describe the total number of fighter planes can mean anywhere from 11 to 19.

“They are in the last few years of their functioning, but they are in good operating condition,” added Duda. He didn’t say whether other countries would follow suit, although Slovakia has said it will send its decommissioned MiGs to Ukraine.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is calling for fighter jets from the West, some NATO members – including the US – have expressed hesitation.

The White House said Poland informed the US in advance of its decision to deploy the MiGs.

Kirby, the White House spokesman, called Poland’s deployment of the fighter jets a sovereign decision and hailed the Poles for continuing to “beat their weight over their weight” in supporting Kiev, but insisted Duda’s decision had not yet impacted the US President’s decision not to provide American-made F-16s.

Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine had several dozen MiG-29s, inherited when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, but it’s unclear how many are still in service.

Duda said the Polish Air Force will replace the planes it is giving to Ukraine with South Korean-made FA-50 fighters and American-made F-35s.

Poland, a key Kiev ally, is home to thousands of US troops and takes in more people fleeing war in the neighboring country than any other nation. It has suffered from invasions and occupations by Russia for centuries and, despite being a member of NATO, still fears Russia.

Authorities in Warsaw also said security services arrested members of a Russian spy ring who claimed they were preparing acts of sabotage in Poland and monitored railway lines used to transport arms to Ukraine.

Hazell and Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed coverage.

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