A Russian fighter jet hit and destroyed a US drone flying in international space above the Black Sea on Tuesday. While the US government has released a video showing how incompetent the pilot was in hitting the MQ-9 Reaper drone, Russia went ahead to present state awards to the pilots that carried out the attack.

Russia Rewards Pilots for Destroying US Drone; US Criticizes Pilots as Bad

Russia Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, gave out national awards to the pilots of the SU-27 fighter jets for hitting the drone. He said Moscow was glad the drone was downed since its transponders were off, and that it was acting in a way that could violate the “boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation.”

The pentagon released a video showing how two Russian fighter jets flew unsteadily toward the drone. One of the jets unloaded fuel shortly before clipping the propeller of the drone, damaging it significantly. US Air Force General James B. Hecker, commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said the Pentagon brought down the drone into the Black Sea because the jet’s clipping of its propeller damaged it significantly.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the drone dropped to a depth of between 4,000 and 5,000 feet into the Black Sea and retrieving it would prove very difficult. Moscow, however, has indicated it may try to recover the aircraft. While Washington blames Moscow for acting “deliberately and provocatively” in hitting the drone, Russia is adamant that its jet did not touch the drone – contrary to video evidence.

“The Russian aircraft did not use onboard weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle, and returned safely to their home airfield,” Shoigu said.

American military experts said Russia is trying to send a message to the US by hitting the drone, going by several occasions in the past when Russian jets had behaved aggressively towards US aircraft overseas. A global policy think-tank based in California, RAND Corporation, said Russia has a history of aggressive maneuvers towards American aircraft as a way of sending cryptic messages.

“Moscow regularly uses limited military actions – far short of direct aggression but often creating escalatory risks – that have caused concern and consternation in Western capitals,” RAND stated. “Much of the assertive, dangerous, or unsafe Russian activity appears directed at shaping patterns of ongoing US or allied behavior. Moscow appears to be using coercive signals to send targeted Compellent messages regarding activities that it finds problematic,” and “these Compellent signals are often linked to particular US and allied activities.”

The US European Command however disclosed that the Russian pilots may not have intentionally struck the drone, going by the way they flew their machines. It said the pilots flew in a very unsafe, reckless, and unprofessional manner that demonstrated a “lack of competence.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier-General Pat Ryder and State Department spokesman Ned Price said “What happened was an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver on the part of a Russian aircraft, a maneuver that was also tinged with a lack of competence.”