The Russian Defence Ministry on Friday said that it has recommended medals for the pilots of the Russian jets that scrambled to identify an American drone on a reconnaissance mission over the Black Sea and allegedly made it plunge.
Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu "has put forward for state awards the pilots of the Su-27 aircraft who prevented the US MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle from violating" the restricted flight zone established by Moscow amid the Ukraine conflict, the ministry's statement read, RT reported.
It added that the borders of the area in question had been made known to all users of international airspace.
The ministry, however, did not provide any personal information about the pilots, nor did it reveal what awards they might receive.
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On Tuesday, the Pentagon claimed that two Russian jets dumped fuel on a MQ-9 Reaper drone, with one later colliding with the aircraft and damaging its propeller, while accusing Moscow of "unsafe and unprofessional" actions.
The Russian side, however, dismissed this accusation, saying that the Su-27s never came in contact with the Reaper, nor did it fire a weapon. On the other hand, it said that the US drone was flying with its transponders turned off, violated the restricted area, and crashed after "going into uncontrolled flight" as a result of "sharp manoeuvres".
In the aftermath of the incident, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Shoigu to discuss the matter. Austin reiterated that the drone was "conducting routine operations in international airspace" and Washington would "continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows".
Shoigu insisted that the incident occurred due to US refusal to comply with the restricted flight zone and its efforts "to ramp up reconnaissance activities against the interests of the Russian Federation".