The Kremlin’s highest level on Tuesday approved an offensive by Russian military fighter jets against a US military drone over the Black Sea, three US officials familiar with the intelligence said.
Russian jets dropped jet fuel on the MQ-9 Reaper, an unprecedented action, and two officials said intelligence showed the intent appeared to be to ram the drone or disable its surveillance capabilities.
One of the officials said, “It was the intention of the Russian leadership to be aggressive in the interception.”
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One official said he had no indication that the signoff had gone as far as Putin. Other officials declined to provide details beyond the “highest level”.
The Russian jet actually clipping the drone’s propeller – which the US says and Russia denies – was likely not intentional, said officials, who believe it was pilot error, based on US video of the incident.
Three defense officials and a Biden administration official also said the Russians have already reached the area where the MQ-9 Reaper crashed. Officials said the Russians are actively searching for wreckage with ships and planes, but there has been no indication the US has been able to recover any of it. An official said most of the debris sank in the Black Sea.
The US is unlikely to try to recover the remains of the crashed drone, according to three US officials familiar with the intelligence.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference on Wednesday that there probably isn’t much debris to recover and noted that the part of the Black Sea where the drone landed was as deep as 5,000 feet.
He reiterated, as have other US officials, that the US took steps to disable the software on the drone so that the Russians would not be able to extract any highly sensitive information from it in order to recover pieces of it.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in an interview with NBC News that the Russians were deliberately trying to get close to the drone.
“We don’t know how the collision with the drone was intentional,” Kirby said. “It is possible that this was a careless, incompetent piece of aviation by the pilot.”
In lieu of additional comment, a spokesman for the National Security Council pointed to previous comments by Kirby, Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The US has said the drone was flying in international airspace over international waters. Russia has warned America to stop coming so close to its borders.
Milley said the incident is part of a pattern of Russian behavior that has become more aggressive recently.
Peter Alexander And moseh advantage Contribution,