The U.S. State Department has officially condemned Russia’s “unsafe interaction” with an American plane over the Black Sea on Monday, noting that a Russian Su-27 jet fighter came within five feet of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane during the incident. The encounter lasted a grand total of two hours and forty minutes.
“While the U.S. aircraft was operating under international law, the Russian side was flagrantly violating existing agreements and international law, in this case the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA),” the State Department noted.
“This is but the latest example of Russian military activities disregarding international norms and agreements. We call on Russia to cease these unsafe actions that increase the risk of miscalculation, danger to aircrew on both sides, and midair collisions,” the statement concluded.
According to U.S. defense officials, the Navy plane was forced to end its mission prematurely by the encounter, because the EP-3 recon plane flew through the Su-27’s jet wash. A previous unsafe Russian intercept in November subjected a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane to severe turbulence when the Russian pilot flew in front of the Navy plane and lit up his afterburners.
“Unsafe actions increase the risk of miscalculation and midair collisions. The U.S. aircraft was operating in accordance with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity,” Capt. Pamela Kunze of U.S. Naval Forces Europe told CNN.
CNN military analyst John Kirby agreed that the Russian pilot’s actions were “inexcusable, provocative, and potentially fatal.” He pointed out that repeated unsafe encounters with Russian planes suggest the Russian military is “acting concertedly and aggressively” against American aircraft as a matter of policy.
The Russian Defense Ministry nevertheless insisted its Su-27 behaved “strictly in accordance with international airspace rules” and “approached the aircraft at a safe distance” to identify it as it approached the border of Russian airspace. The Defense Ministry did not explain how the Russian jet ended up within five feet of the American aircraft.
Military.com notes that Navy surveillance aircraft flying out of Italy routinely carry anti-submarine equipment due to increased Russian submarine activity in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Interactions between Russian and NATO aircraft occur quite frequently in the region without incident, so it stands out when the Russian pilots take unsafe actions such as flying erratically or turning their transponders off.