US accuses Russia of unsafe aerial intercept over Black Sea

The United States accused Russia of sending one of its fighter jets dangerously close to an American spy plane over the Black Sea on Wednesday, an intercept American military officials said was “unsafe and unprofessional,” even as Moscow said it acted in accordance with international flight rules.

The U.S. said its Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft was on “routine operations” in international airspace when a Russian SU-27 Flanker jet flew within three meters of it in an intercept that lasted 19 minutes.

US Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft. Photo: Greg L Davis
US Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft. Photo: Greg L Davis

“U.S. Navy aircraft and ships routinely interact with Russian units in the area and most interactions are safe and professional,” the U.S. Defense Department said. “However, we have concerns when there is an unsafe maneuver like this. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions, and could result in a miscalculation or accident.”

The Russian defense ministry said it dispatched its fighter jet after the U.S. aircraft approached the Russian border and turned off its transponders, which are used for identification.

“After the Russian fighters approached the reconnaissance aircraft for visual inspection and identification of the aircraft registration numbers, the American planes abruptly changed course and flew in the opposite direction from the Russian border,” Moscow said.

A Russian defense ministry spokesman said the Russian fighter acted in strict accordance with international rules.

The conflict in the skies comes at a time of increased tensions between the two countries, chiefly their inability to agree on how to achieve a lasting cease-fire in the Syrian civil war and end fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has been supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels trying to overthrow his government, while the U.S. has focused its attention on attacks against Islamic State jihadists in Syria. The U.S. imposed economic sanctions against Moscow for its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and support for pro-Moscow fighters in eastern Ukraine doing battle with Kyiv’s forces.

Wednesday’s incident over the Black Sea is one of several between Russian and U.S. warplanes this year. In April, as a U.S. guided missile destroyer patrolled in the Baltic Sea, two Russian warplanes flew simulated attack passes over it.

The two countries agreed in a 1972 pact to various measures to avert dangerous interactions in international waters.

VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.


(Main photo, of a Russian SU-27 Flanker fighter jet: Vitaly Kuzmin)