A Russian jet cut off a United States reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea last Tuesday, zooming within 20 feet of the American jumbo jet and sparking a protest from the Pentagon, which condemned the Russian move as "unsafe and unprofessional."
The U.S. RC-135 plane was flying what the Pentagon said was a routine information-gathering mission, gathering data on Russia's military moves in the region. The Russian military has a heavy presence in the western part of the country, and a major base in the seaside city of Kalingrad.
Another Pentagon official, speaking not for attribution, described the maneuvers carried out by the Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet as "reckless," actually placing the lives of American crew in danger and forcing the RC-135 to suddenly change course.
A Russian military spokesperson, Igor Konashenkov, claimed that the American plane was flying with its transponder turned off — a tactic used by the dozens of Russian jets that have been intercepted by NATO planes in recent months — rendering the aircraft largely invisible to commercial air traffic.
But according to the air traffic monitoring site Flight Radar 24, Konashenkov was not telling the truth. The site says it even has the RC-135's actual transponder code, proving that the plane had the device active.
@RT_com The US aircraft had transponder ON. Transponder code: AE01D5 Registration: 64-14849 Callsign: TELEX97 — Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) April 11, 2015Konashenkov also disputed the Pentagon claim that the American crews were placed at risk by the Russian fighter jet, which flew near to the RC-135 — a military version of the Boeing 707.
"No emergency situation was reported during the fly-by of the American reconnaissance aircraft," the Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson said.
But the American officials were not satisfied, promising to register a protest against the incident.
"On the morning of April 7, a US RC-135U, flying a routine route in international airspace, was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker in an unsafe and unprofessional manner," Pentagon spokesperson Eileen M. Lainez said. "The United States is raising this incident with Russia in the appropriate diplomatic and official channels."
The incident was similar to a Russian intercept of a RC-135 almost exactly one year ago, in the Sea of Okhost off on northeastern Japan, when a SU-27 Russian fighter buzzed within 100 feet the United States plane.
In fact, the apparent Russian posturing and provocations, which have stepped up to Post-Cold War record levels since the crisis in Ukraine began about a year ago, pose an "increased risk in our ability to defend North America," according to NORAD Commander Admiral William Gortney.
But the Russians dismiss the U.S. officials protests as nothing but "hysterics."
The head of the Russian parliamentary Committee for Foreign Relations, Konstantin Kosachev, called on the U.S. not to overreact to the repeated encounters between Russian jets and Western aircraft, demanding that the Pentagon and NATO stop, "presenting them as aggression and demonizing Russia."
[Images: Wikimedia Commons]