Video shows Russia ‘flat-out lying’ about downed drone intercept, White House says

The White House says the decision to release video of Russian fighters harassing a US-flagged drone over the Black Sea was made in part to demonstrate that Russian officials’ explanation of the incident, which led to the drone being brought down over international waters on Tuesday, was completely false.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Thursday said the video, which the Pentagon made public earlier in the day, “clearly demonstrated our narrative of what happened”.

US officials had previously said the two Russian Su-27 aircraft had hazarded the unmanned surveillance drone, known as an MQ-9 Reaper, by dumping fuel on it and passing close to and in front of the pilotless craft. One of the Russian fighters clipped the drone’s propeller, leading Defence Department personnel to wipe its’ memory and intentionally bring it down into the Black Sea.

Russian officials had claimed that their fighters did not have any contact with the American drone. But Mr Kirby said the video showed their account did not line up with the facts.

“It is not uncommon at all for us to release imagery in these intercepts. We've done it plenty of times before ... to lay bare and to make clear to the rest of the world the manner in which the Russians have been just flat out lying out lot about their account,” he said.

Mr Kirby also said the Tuesday incident was not the first time Russian aircraft had intercepted a US-flagged drone, and while he acknowledged that such intercepts are common, he noted that the Russian pilots “aggressive flying, reckless flying,” by dumping fuel on the drone and later striking it.

“It is not clear to us that the pilot intended to strike the drone... at best, it's reckless flying. At worst, it's reckless and incompetent,” he said, adding later that he could not say which of those two characterisations best fit the Russian pilots’ actions, nor did the video show a “deliberate intent” by Russia to foment escalation or promote false claims that Russia is in a conflict with the US or the West in general.

“We can't get between the ears of the Russian pilot and and and know what the intent was there in terms of striking the drone ... I don't know that we'll ever know. But what we do know and what is clearly evident is that this was intentional harassment, it was intentional. dumping of fuel to try to disrupt the flight profile of that MQ-9, and it was intentionally aggressive, extremely aggressive flying,” he said.

“It is entirely possible that the pilot did not mean to strike the drone. Frankly, you shouldn't have been in the same space as the drone anyway, the drone was acting in accordance with international law, doing absolutely nothing wrong. So there was no reason for a Russian fighter jet to be that close to to a US unmanned aircraft”.

Mr Kirby added that the US and Nato “do not seek a conflict with Russia”.

“We do mean to continue to support Ukraine, we do mean to bolster our presence and our deterrence capability along Nato's eastern flank. And these kinds of flights in international airspace, over international sea space, will continue in support of those objectives,” he said.