LONDON (AP) — A Russian pilot deliberately fired missiles at a Royal Air Force surveillance plane in international airspace over the Black Sea last year, the BBC reported Thursday — an incident Russia previously attributed to a “ technical malfunction.”
The broadcaster said that intercepted communications suggested that the pilot of a Russian Su-27 fighter jet fired on the unarmed U.K. plane in September 2022 after receiving an ambiguous command from a Russian ground station and that his co-pilot tried to get him to stop.
The British Rivet Joint aircraft has sensors to intercept communications, and its crew would have been able to listen to the incident.
In public, British officials have downplayed the incident. Then U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told lawmakers in October that a Russian jet had “released a missile in the vicinity of’’ a British plane and that he had demanded an explanation from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. He said that Russia had answered that “it was a technical malfunction of the Su-27 fighter.”
“We do not consider this incident to constitute a deliberate escalation on the part of the Russians, and our analysis concurs that it was due to a malfunction,” Wallace said. He added that the RAF had resumed surveillance patrols over the Black Sea with fighter aircraft escorts.
Asked about Thursday’s report, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Wallace had “informed the House of Commons within three weeks of the event occurring, in the interest of transparency and safety.”
“Our intent has always been to protect the safety of our operations, avoid unnecessary escalation and inform the public and international community,” the ministry said. “This incident is a stark reminder of the potential consequences of Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Max Blain, said the prime minister was confident Wallace hadn’t misled lawmakers with his statement, adding that “obviously there are limitations on some of the operational detail that can be put into the public domain” for security reasons.