According to sources, senior Russian defense officials have approved the interception of the US drone
Senior Russian Defense Ministry officials ordered Russian warplanes to harass a U.S. drone over the Black Sea this week, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.
The connection of top military commanders to the incident suggests that the fighter pilots were not acting dishonestly when they interfered with the US drone.
However, a US official said there was currently no indication that Russia’s highest political leaders – particularly those in the Kremlin, including President Vladimir Putin – knew of the planned attack in advance.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said late Wednesday that the harassment likely had high-level approval.
“Our planes, our drones are being harassed almost constantly by Russian pilots. And to say that this is the standard pattern of the pilots doing this, the Russian pilots are doing this at will, that’s not true,” Price told CNN’s Anderson Cooper this Wednesday night.
“The fact that we saw the formation of the forces of the Russian Federation tells us that there is at least some high-level authorization for this type of operation,” he added.
It is unclear whether or not the military set out to engineer an incident in which militants physically interacted with a drone.
“We know the interception was intentional. We know the aggressive behavior was intentional, and we know it was very unprofessional and very unsafe,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said at a news conference on Wednesday. “The actual interaction of the Russian fixed-wing fighter with our UAV, physical contact with those two, is not yet certain.”
Beyond stern public and private warnings against Russian aggression in international airspace, Milley sought to minimize any immediate consequences for Russia.
“We are not seeking armed conflict with Russia, and I think at this point we need to investigate this incident and go from there,” Milley said.