An incident that can perhaps best be described as straight out of the movie Top Gun took place last week when a Russian jet barrel rolled a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane, CNN reported. U.S. European Command revealed on Saturday that the incident took place during a routine flight on Thursday over the Baltic Sea. Although Russia has since disputed the account, the incident has left many wondering: Are the Russians provoking the U.S.?
The Russian jet, a Su-27, reportedly flew within 50 feet of the U.S. Air Force plane, a RC-135. According to U.S. European Command spokesman Danny Hernandez, the Russian plane was performing “erratic and aggressive maneuvers,” including a barrel roll that began on the left side of the U.S. plane, continued over top of it, and ended on the aircraft’s right side.
“The unsafe and unprofessional actions of a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries.”
Hernandez added that the U.S. plane never entered Russian airspace and said the United States would protest the action with the Russian government. Still, the Russian defense ministry denied that it was provoking the U.S. and reported that the U.S.’ take on Thursday’s incident was “not consistent with reality.” Russian officials also insisted that the pilot had acted “strictly in accordance with the international regulations on the use of airspace.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Gen. Igor Konashenkov also claimed the Su-27 had initially been dispatched because government air defense locations had identified an “unknown target” that was rapidly approaching the Russian border. He said once the Russian pilot visually identified the Air Force plane as a reconnaissance craft, it “changed its course in the opposite direction, away from the Russian border.”
Lending even more credence to the idea that the Russians could be provoking the U.S., the incident last Thursday came just two days after a U.S. warship performing operations in the same region was buzzed numerous times by a Russian aircraft.
According to USA Today, a Russian aircraft flew toward the USS Donald Cook destroyer Tuesday in the Baltic Sea, coming within just 30 feet of the ship’s superstructure. And according to a statement by the Pentagon, last week’s round of close encounters with Russian military aircraft are not a new problem for the U.S.
“There have been repeated incidents over the last year where Russian military aircraft have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns, and we are very concerned with any such behavior.”
As with Thursday’s incident with the U.S. Air Force plane, Russian officials denied any wrongdoing in the destroyer flyover that occurred earlier last week, despite footage that clearly shows the Russians provoking the U.S. Still, Russian Defense Ministry officials said its pilots were not operating unsafely and “fully observed all safety measures.”
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow expressed its dismay after the incident, issuing formal concerns with the Russian government, but so far no incidents have been officially recorded over the encounters. Last October, U.S. Navy jets intercepted two Russian Tu-142 aircraft flying close to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in the Pacific, and last June a Russian Su-24 flew within 500 meters of a U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailing in the Black Sea.
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