SHAMELESS Russia has dished out medals to the reckless fighter jet pilots who downed a US drone over the Black Sea.
The MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed into the water near Russian-occupied Crimea on Tuesday after its propeller was struck by an Su-27 jet.
It is understood the move was authorised by top-level Kremlin officials.
Russia claims to have since located the wreckage of the drone at a depth of up to 2,953 ft in the Black Sea off major naval port Sevastopol.
Meanwhile, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has presented medals to the pilots of two Su-27 fighter planes that intercepted the drone near the Ukraine frontline.
Announcing the awards, the ministry repeated Russia’s version of events – disputed by Washington – that the Russian planes did not make physical contact with the drone.
A spokesman said: “As a result of sharp manoeuvring, the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface.”
It said the drone had been flying with its transponders turned off and violating airspace restrictions that Russia had made public in connection with what it calls its special military operation in Ukraine.
The US military said the Russian fighter planes approached its MQ-9 Reaper drone during a reconnaissance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace.
It said the fighters harassed the drone and sprayed fuel on it in an encounter lasting 30-40 minutes before one clipped the drone’s propeller, causing it to crash into the sea.
On Thursday, the Pentagon released a 40-second edited video showing a Russian jet coming incredibly close to a US drone and dumping fuel on it.
The clip also showed a damaged propeller in the aftermath.
A top US general said the incident demonstrated Moscow’s increasingly aggressive behaviour.
It is the first time since the height of the Cold War that a US aircraft has been brought down by the Russians.
State Department spokesman Ned Price slammed what he called Russia’s “brazen violation of international law”.
US Air Force General James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa also condemned the Russians.
He said: “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.”
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said the Russian planes had been stalking the drone prior to the collision.
“It seems like approximately 30 to 40 minutes they were flying in the vicinity of this MQ-9,” he said.
The US has been operating Reapers drones over the Black Sea since before the beginning of the war to track Russian movements on the Ukraine battlefield
The drones can fly up to 50,000 feet for 10 hours making them ideal for gathering intelligence and performing reconnaissance for extended periods of time.
The area where the incident is believed to be where there is intense NATO military activity close to the frontlines of the Ukraine war.