WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) — Secretary of State John Kerry said a U.S. warship in the Baltic Sea could have opened fire on Russian fighter jets buzzing it earlier this week.
The unarmed fighter planes flew within 75 feet of the missile destroyer USS Donald Cook on Monday, making “numerous, close-range and low altitude passes,” a U.S. European Command statement said. They returned, with a Russian attack helicopter, Tuesday, “in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories,” the U.S. Navy said, adding, “We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers.”
Kerry told CNN en Español on Thursday, “It’s unprofessional and under the rules of engagement that could have been a shot down, so people need to understand that this is serious business and the United States is not going to be intimidated in high seas. We respect our freedom of navigation … and we are communicating to the Russians how dangerous this is.”
The flights interrupted training exercises aboard the ship, which had a Polish helicopter on board, a U.S. official told CNN, leading to speculation that Russia intended to intimidate Poland with a show of military muscle.
The news network said a U.S. official referred to the Russian action as “strafing runs” but without the firing of ammunition.
White House Press Secretary John Earnest commented Thursday, “It’s not at all uncommon for Russian military aircraft to engage in acts like this. So we typically would raise concerns about this through the military defense attaché at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.”
“I can tell you that that communication has occurred. And we’ll seek to resolve our differences through a well-established military channel.”
Earnest added the Russian action was a violation of the 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement, also known as the INCSEA Treaty, but Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Tass, the Russian state news agency, that the Russian aircraft acted “in accordance with international rules.” He said the jets were 43 miles away from the USS Donald Cook, though footage and photographs released by the U.S. Navy this week appears to show the aircraft much closer.
The incident is the latest in close encounters between Russian planes and U.S. warships. In June 2015 a Russian fighter plane flew near a U.S. guided-missile destroyer in the Black Sea, and in October two Russian aircraft were intercepted as they flew near the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Pacific Ocean.