Russian and US aircraft have been engaged in a dangerous encounter over the Baltic Sea. The Russian Defense Ministry says its fighter jets have intercepted two US spy planes in separate incidents on a single day.
The ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that a Baltic Fleet Su-27 jet was scrambled on Monday to intercept a US RC-135 spy plane that was flying toward the Russian border.
“While being escorted, the RC-135 attempted to move closer towards the Russian interceptor, making a provocative turn towards the Su-27,” read the statement.
It said the pilot of the Russian jet “reacted to the RC-135 maneuver” and continued to escort it until the spy plane turned away from the Russian border.
The intercept occurred 40 kilometers from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
The ministry said that “in just 10 minutes [after the incident] another RC-135 entered the same zone and it was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 as well.”
The Pentagon had on Tuesday accused Russia of carrying out an “unsafe” intercept of a US jet over the Baltic Sea a day earlier. Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis accused the Russian pilot of flying too fast and having “poor control” over his jet. He claimed that the US aircraft “did nothing to provoke this behavior.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Fox New had reported that the Russian Su-27 jet, which had air-to-air missiles under its wings, approached the US plane “rapidly” and flew “erratically” within 1.5 meters of it.
US officials claimed that the American jet was on a “routine” mission over the Baltic Sea in international airspace.
The Russian Defense Ministry, however, said that, “All flights of Russian interceptors over international waters of the Baltic Sea are carried out strictly in accordance with international rules.”
Tensions in Syrian skies and elsewhere
The ministry said that, during the past week, US and NATO jets had carried out more than a dozen flights over the sea “for reconnaissance purposes in close proximity to the Russian border.”
There have been more than 30 interactions between US and Russian jets and ships in the Baltic Sea since the beginning of this month, CNN reported.
The recent encounter occurred only a day after a US warplane shot down a Syrian fighter jet over the Syrian province of Raqqah. Russia has been conducting an aerial bombardment campaign in Syria on a request by Damascus. But the US forces in Syria are there without any permission from the Syrian government or a United Nations (UN) mandate.
Reacting to the downing of the Syrian jet, Russia said it was “a cynical violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic” and “military aggression.” Russia also threatened to treat coalition aircraft potentially flying in areas west of the Euphrates River in Syria “as air targets.”
The Pentagon responded, “We will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened.”
Later, early on Tuesday, a US warplane also shot down what US forces said was an Iranian-made drone operated by pro-government forces in Syria.
Russia accused the US-led coalition of “complicity with terrorism” after the drone was downed in southern Syria.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that the incidents in Syria could be “very dangerous” and lead to an escalation of the war.
Russia and the US have been supporting opposite sides in the six-year conflict in Syria. Washington has been backing some of the militant groups opposed to the Syrian government.
The US has also been leading dozens of its allies in a coalition purportedly targeting the positions of Daesh terrorists in Syria.