The Pentagon has released a video purportedly showing the mid-air encounter between the downed US drone and Russian fighter jets over the Black Sea early this week.
According to the US, the video, shot by the drone's rear camera, is proof of Russian jets' harassing behaviour and their colliding with the drone, which Moscow vehemently denied.
The footage shows two Russian Su-27 fighter jets drawing near the drone before dumping jet fuel on it. The video cuts out and then resumes with images of the drone's damaged propeller.
Another portion of the footage shows the Russian jet making another pass at the drone. It again releases fuel before colliding with the drone. The video is disrupted by the impact and the propeller is damaged. The US had to bring down the drone following the collision. However, it managed to wipe the drone’s sensitive software before downing it, thereby ensuring that the data does not end up in the wrong hands.
Russia has declined that any such collision happened and had maintained that the drone went down after making "sharp manoeuvres" after it flew "provocatively" close to Russian air space.
According to a senior Biden administration official, the video is evidence of the physical collision and dumping of fuel, but it does not confirm the pilot’s intent. This comes as two US officials told CNN that the senior officials at the Russian Ministry of Defense gave the order for the Russian fighter jets to harass a US drone over the Black Sea.
This proves the Russian pilots were not "taking rogue action when they interfered with the US drone." However, there is no indication that the higher-ups in Russia, including President Vladimir Putin – knew about the planned aggression in advance, one of the US officials told CNN.
The Kremlin has not yet responded to the release of the US video.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has said that it had indications Russia was trying to recover debris. Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, too claimed that Russia had the technological capability to recover the debris from the seabed.
The US has acknowledged that it is challenging to recover the remains of the UAV. Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said remains of the UAV lie in waters as deep as 1,219 to 1,524 meters. "It probably sank to some significant depths, so any recovery operation from a technical standpoint would be very difficult," Milley told reporters on Wednesday.