In a photo provided by the U.S. Navy, two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft fly near the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea on April 12 in the first of two recent reported incidents between U.S. and Russian military assets.
The Wall Street Journal
By JULIAN E. BARNES in Brussels and NATHAN HODGE in Moscow
Updated April 17, 2016 1:58 p.m. ET
A U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane was intercepted by a Russian fighter plane over the Baltic Sea in what American officials said on Sunday was an unsafe and unprofessional manner.
Russian officials disputed the account, saying they were responding to an unidentified target approaching their border at high speed.
The Russian fighter came within 50 feet of the Air Force plane, executing a barrel roll over the plane from its left side to the right, said U.S. European Command officials, a maneuver the American officials said was unsafe.
The incident occurred on Thursday, just days after Russian aircraft buzzed the USS Donald Cook, in another sign that the Russian military is using increasingly aggressive tactics in the Baltic Sea to deter U.S. ships.
European Command officials said they are protesting both incidents the Russian government through diplomatic channels.
But a Russian military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said reports of a dangerous approach by the Su-27 were “not true,” saying the Russian aircraft had scrambled in response to “an unidentified aerial target heading to the Russian state border at high speed.”
According to the Russian account, the Russian warplane identified the incoming aircraft as an RC-135, and that the U.S. plane then reversed course and flew away from the Russian border.
“The flight of the Russian aircraft was carried out in the strict accordance with the international rules of the airspace usage; no emergency situations emerged,” Maj. Gen. Konashenkov said.
The U.S. has been increasing operations in the Baltic Sea, worried about increased Russian submarine activity and a military build up in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, where Russia is positioning longer-range surface-to-air missiles.
Lt. Col. David Westover, a spokesman for European Command, said the aircraft, a RC-135, was flying on a routine route in international air space on Thursday when the incident occurred.
“This unsafe and unprofessional air intercept has the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all aircrews involved,” Lt. Col. Westover said in a statement.
“More importantly, the unsafe and unprofessional actions of a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries.”
On Friday, before the intercept was made public, Alexander Grushko, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, said in a round-table discussion with reporters in Brussels that U.S. and its allies were undertaking an unjustified military build up in the Baltic region.
He said that the incident with the USS Cook occurred about 45 miles from Russia’s military bases in Kaliningrad and that American planes and ships were approaching too close to Russian territory.
“These incidents are taking place very close to Russian waters,” Mr. Grushko said. “The main question is not who has the right to fly or who has the right to enter waters. But the basic issue is, Why is NATO so active near Russian borders and Russian military bases?”
A year ago, in a similar incident, the Pentagon lodged a protest with Russia over what it called the unsafe interception of a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft in the Baltic Sea.
In that case, the U.S. RC-135U was flying north of Poland over the Baltic Sea when it was approached by a Russian Su-27 fighter at high speed, according to U.S. officials.
Original article can be found here: http://www.wsj.com