Three US officials familiar with intelligence said the highest levels of the Kremlin approved aggressive actions by Russian military fighter jets against a US military drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday.
Russian planes dumped jet fuel on the MQ-9 Reaper, an unprecedented action, and two of the officials said intelligence suggests the intent appeared to be to divert the drone or disable its surveillance capabilities.
It was «the intention of the Russian leadership to be aggressive in the interception,» one of the officers said.
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An official said he had received no indication that the signature was going to Putin. Other officials declined to provide details beyond the «highest levels.»
The Russian plane actually severed the drone’s propeller, which the United States says occurred and Russia denies was likely unintentional, the officials said, who they believe was pilot error, according to 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. The Russians are actively searching for the debris with ships and planes, but the United States has not seen any indication that they have been able to recover it, authorities said. An official said much of the debris sank into the Black Sea.
The United States is unlikely to attempt to recover the wreckage of the crashed drone, according to the three US officials familiar with the intelligence.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference Wednesday that there probably isn’t much debris to recover, noting that the part of the Black Sea where the drone landed is up to 5,000 feet. deep.
He reiterated, as other US officials have said, that the US took steps to disable the software on the drone so that the Russians could not obtain any highly sensitive information if they were to recover parts 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.
«What we don’t know is how intentional the collision with the drone was,» Kirby said. «This may have just been a reckless and incompetent piece of aviation on the part of the pilot.»
In lieu of additional comments, a National Security Council spokesman noted earlier comments by Kirby, Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The United States has said the drone was flying in international airspace over international waters. Russia has warned the United States to stop getting so close to its borders.
Milley said the incident is part of a pattern of behavior by Russia that has recently become more aggressive.
Peter Alexander and moses wins contributed.