The Pentagon released footage Thursday of what it says is a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a U.S. drone, damaging the propeller and forcing U.S. controllers to crash land the device in the Black Sea on Tuesday.
Two Russian Su-27 warplanes conducted an "unsafe and unprofessional intercept" with an Air Force reconnaissance MQ-9 Reaper flying in international airspace, the Pentagon said in a release issued with the video to counter Russian denials of contact between the aircraft.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its fighter jets were trying to identify the "intruder" flying near Crimea when the drone's own abrupt maneuvering caused it to crash.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the video provided “clear and convincing evidence of the account we laid out there” and shows “the Russians have been flat-out lying.” But he said it was not clear the pilot intended to strike the unmanned aircraft, so officials were unable to say if it was deliberate.
Kirby said the United States is not seeking conflict with Russia. Still, the incident further escalated tensions between two global powers already sharply at odds since Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year spurred the United States into providing billions of dollars in military aid to Kyiv and leading a coalition opposing the aggression.
Steven Myers, founder of an aerospace and defense management consulting firm that bears his name, said the Russians were clearly sending a message with the incident, possibly telling the U.S. to stop poking the bear.
"Our issues with the Russians will only be resolved in one of two ways,'' said Myers, an Air Force pilot during the Cold War days. "I recommend the negotiating table as the better option.''
DRONE INCIDENT: Russian fighter jet damages US Air Force drone over Black Sea
How American, Russian officials responded to drone incident
Russian military authorities said they will attempt to retrieve and study the wreckage of the American drone, which is the size of a small plane and is valued at $32 million. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that such a search was "the prerogative of the military, if they deem it necessary to do that in the Black Sea for our interests and for our security."
The ministry accused the United States of provoking the incident, saying the drone flew with its transponders off and "violating the borders" established by the Kremlin because of the war.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the drone sank into waters more than 4,000 feet deep, probably was destroyed and that "mitigating measures" were taken to ensure no intelligence could be accessed.
The drones can be armed with Hellfire missiles, but U.S. officials said this drone was not armed. Two Russian Su-27 fighters aggressively intercepted it Tuesday, demonstrating a "lack of competence," according to a statement from U.S. European Command. The initial statement said one of the fighter jets struck the propeller of the drone, "nearly caused both aircraft to crash," and forced U.S. operators to bring the drone down in international waters.
►On Thursday's anniversary of the Mariupol theater bombing that killed hundreds of civilians, a report from a U.N.-backed inquiry said Russia has committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity with its “systematic and widespread” use of torture in Ukraine and attacks on civilian infrastructure.
►Polish authorities said they have detained members of a Russian espionage ring, alleging they were preparing acts of sabotage in Poland and had been monitoring railroad routes used to transport weapons into Ukraine.
►A court in Russia cited religious beliefs in affirming the right of Pavel Mushumansky, an evangelical Christian, to perform alternative civil service rather than fight in Ukraine, his lawyer said.
►A former mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-largest city, was ordered to spend 14 days in custody pending trial on charges of discrediting the military. Yevgeny Roizman, a sharp critic of the Kremlin, has denied posting the criticisms on social media.
Poland to send fighter jets to Ukraine; 'not on table now' for US
Poland announced plans to provide Ukraine with a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets, becoming the first ally to fulfill the longstanding request from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Polish President Andrzej Duda, speaking Thursday at a news conference in Warsaw, said Poland would hand over four of the Soviet-made warplanes within days. The rest will be inspected and supplied later.
The United States and NATO have balked at Zelenskyy's request in the past amid concerns of expanding the war. President Joe Biden previously declined the request for warplanes, but White House officials have not ruled out such deliveries in the future. Poland’s decision hasn’t changed the U.S. position, Kirby said.
“It’s not on the table right now,” he said
On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country could provide Ukraine with MiG-29 fighter jets within four to six weeks if a coalition of allies signs off on a plan. Duda did not discuss which, if any, other countries might have joined his coalition, but Slovakia has said it also was willing to send MiGs to Ukraine.
China has sent Russia arms, report says; Pentagon has not seen them in Ukraine
The United States doesn’t have any evidence that China has provided weapons Russia has used in Ukraine, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday, referencing a report of Chinese arms being shipped to Moscow last year.
Biden administration officials have warned Beijing not to supply lethal weapons for Russian troops to use in the year-old war in Ukraine, which the report indicates might have already happened.
Politico reported Thursday that between June and December of 2022, Chinese companies – one of them a state-owned defense contractor – shipped 1,000 assault rifles and other equipment with military use to Russian entities.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, press secretary for the Defense Department, told reporters at a briefing that the Pentagon has not “seen the transfer yet of any lethal asset from China to Russia for use on the battlefield.”
China has denied sending weapons to the Kremlin, which has reached out to Iran and North Korea for ammunition as its stocks have been depleted.
Last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States knows Russia has received “some nonlethal dual-use type support coming from quote-unquote Chinese companies that almost certainly was approved by the state.’’
Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook
Russian offensive slowing down, think tank says
Russia's weekslong offensive in eastern Ukraine appears to have slowed, a Washington-based think tank said. The Institute for the Study of War cited a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Joint Press Center, Col. Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, who said daily Russian ground attacks have decreased from 90 to 100 attacks per day to less than 30. Dmytrashkivskyi suggested significant manpower and equipment losses hampered the Russian push.
"Dmytrashkivskyi’s statements are consistent with (the institute's) general observation regarding the pace of Russian operations along the entire frontline in Ukraine," the institute says in its most recent assessment. The assessment says Ukrainian forces appear to have regained some territory in the Luhansk province, part of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine that Moscow claims to have annexed.
Ukrainian military sources have noted a decline in attacks in and around the highly contested city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk province. The Russian mercenary Wagner Group's leader, financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, has blamed an ammunition shortage.
China and Ukraine hold rare diplomatic talks
China, which is trying to present itself as a neutral arbiter in the war while considering sending weapons to Russia, had a rare diplomatic contact with Ukraine on Thursday.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke by phone with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, expressed concern about the war spilling beyond Ukraine's borders and encouraged seeking a political solution, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
China, which last year said it had a “no-limits” friendship with Russia, has declined to condemn Moscow’s invasion while assailing Western sanctions and accusing NATO and the United States of provoking Russia into military action.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to visit Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and then to hold talks remotely with Zelenskyy.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Video: Russian jet dumps fuel on US drone; Poland planes to Ukraine