Pentagon video shows Russian jet dumping fuel on US drone


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

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Biden administration released video Thursday of a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel at a U.S. Air Force surveillance drone as the United States sought to hold Russia accountable for the collision that led to the crash of the drone in the Black Sea without escalating already strong tensions with the Kremlin.

Poland, meanwhile, said it was giving Ukraine a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets, becoming the first NATO member to respond to Kiev’s increasingly urgent demands for of fighter planes.

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

On a second approach, either the same plane or another Russian Su-27 following the MQ-9 struck the drone’s propeller, damaging a blade, according to the US military, which said it then gave up the plane in the sea.

The video clip does not show the collision, although it does show damage to the propeller.

Russia said its fighters did not hit the drone and claimed the unmanned aerial vehicle crashed after performing a sudden maneuver.

While calling on Russia for “reckless” action, the White House has tried to strike a balance to avoid escalating tensions. US officials said they were unable to determine whether the Russian pilot intentionally hit the US drone and stressed that lines of communication with Moscow remained open.

“I can’t point to this video and say it’s a deliberate attempt to escalate or… tangibly provoke Putin’s false claim that it’s about the West versus Russia” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. “We have made it clear many times that we are not looking for a conflict with Russia.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin says that by supplying arms to Ukraine and sharing intelligence information with Kiev, the United States and its allies have effectively engaged in the war, which is now in its 13th month.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said on Wednesday that an attempt would be made to recover the wreckage of the drone.

US officials said they were confident that nothing of military value would be left from the drone even if Russia recovered the wreckage. They have left open the possibility of trying to recover parts of the $32 million downed plane, which they say crashed in water 4,000 to 5,000 feet (1,200 to 1,500) deep. meters), although the United States has no ships in the area.

Russia and NATO member countries routinely intercept their respective warplanes, but Tuesday’s incident marked the first time since the Cold War that a US plane has crashed in such a confrontation, which raises fears that it will bring the United States and Russia closer to a direct conflict.

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

Senior US and Russian defense and military officials spoke on the downing of the drone on Wednesday, underscoring the seriousness of the event.

Calls between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, as well as between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley and General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of State -Russian General Major, were the first since October.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in its report on the call with Austin that Shoigu accused the United States of instigating the incident by ignoring flight restrictions imposed by the Kremlin due to its military operations in Ukraine. . The United States said the drone was operating in international airspace.

The MQ-9, which has a wingspan of 66 feet (20 meters), includes a ground control station and satellite equipment. It is capable of carrying ammunition, but Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, would not say if the abandoned drone was armed.

The release of the video is the latest example of the Biden administration making public intelligence discoveries during the war. The administration said it wanted to highlight Russian malign activity as well as plans for Russian disinformation operations so allies remain clear about Moscow’s intentions.

The White House deferred to Austin over the decision to release it, with the Pentagon and President Joe Biden’s national security aides agreeing it was important to let the world see what happened, official says administration familiar with the decision-making process. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations, said it took time to go through the declassification process and insisted the administration was not concerned that tensions with Russia would worsen further.

Because the video does not show the actual collision, some involved in the decision to release the footage wondered if the Russians would use it as proof that there was no contact between the plane and the drone. according to another official familiar with the manufacturing discussions, it’s public. Those concerns were overcome when the Pentagon explained that the video showed the immediate aftermath and damage to the drone’s propeller, which could only have come from a collision, according to the second official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. to disclose the details.

Separately, Polish President Andrzej Duda said Warsaw would give Ukraine four Soviet-made MiG-29s “in the coming days” and that the rest needed maintenance and would be supplied later. The Polish word he used to describe the total number of combat aircraft could mean between 11 and 19.

“They are in the final years of operation but they are in good working order,” Duda added. He did not say whether other countries would follow, although Slovakia said it would send its decommissioned MiGs to Ukraine.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has argued for fighter jets from the West, some NATO members – including the United States – have expressed hesitation.

The White House said Poland informed the United States in advance of its decision to supply the MiGs.

Kirby, the White House spokesman, called Poland’s supply of fighter jets a sovereign decision and applauded Poles for continuing to ‘push above their weight’ in helping Kiev, but insisted that Duda’s decision would have no bearing on the US President’s decision, so far. , not to supply American-made F-16s.

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

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

A crucial ally of kyiv, Poland hosts thousands of American troops and hosts more people fleeing war in the neighboring country than any other nation. It has endured invasions and occupations by Russia for centuries and still fears Russia despite being a member of NATO.

Authorities in Warsaw also said security services arrested members of a Russian spy ring, alleging they were plotting acts of sabotage in Poland and guarding train tracks used to transport weapons to Poland. Ukraine.

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

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