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Putin honors Russian pilots as ‘heroes’ for destroying US drone

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2022. (ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
March 21, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin honored the pilots of the two jets involved in destroying a U.S. drone flying over the Black Sea in international waters.

The Russian Ministry of Defense released the statement honoring the pilots’ efforts they claimed “prevented a violation” of a military exclusion zone.

The translated statement from Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu claimed the honor was “for the purposes of conducting a special military operation.”

It continued, “In order to identify the intruder, fighters from the air defense forces on duty were lifted into the air. [The] MQ-9 went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface. Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with an unmanned aerial vehicle and returned safely to their home base.”

The U.S. European Command released a video following the incident revealing a Russian Su-27 dropping fuel on the American drone before its camera cut out.

“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” said USAF Gen. James B. Hecker, commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”

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“U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely,” Hecker added. 

The damaged drone has not yet been recovered. Russian sources claim they hope to find the damaged drone’s remains, while American military sources have claimed that there is not much to recover.

The controversy continues to escalate tensions between the two nations as Russia passes more than one years since its invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. has committed billions of dollars in security to Ukraine, according to Congressional Reports.

The massive levels of defense funding have included 38 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and ammunition; 8 National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS); 1 Patriot air defense battery; and other air defense systems; 31 M1 Abrams tanks, 45 T-72B tanks and 109 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, according to the Defense Department.

The ongoing financial commitments have led to pushback from some lawmakers, including Florida Republican Governor and speculated 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, who recently drew criticism for claiming Ukraine is not a “vital interest” for the U.S., The Hill reported.