For the second time in four days a Russian jet has intercepted a US plane over the Mediterranean, bringing tensions between the two countries to boiling point at a moment Moscow is appearing to flex in defense of its ally Syria.
The Pentagon confirmed the latest “unsafe and unprofessional” intercept incident in international airspace Sunday, after an incident the prior Wednesday involving a US P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft, which was similarly “buzzed” by an aggressive Russian SU-35, which reportedly performed a high-speed, inverted maneuver.
“The unnecessary actions of the Russian SU-35 pilot were inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules, seriously jeopardizing the safety of flight of both aircraft,” the US Navy said Monday. “While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible. We expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents.”
However, a Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) statement framed the latest incident as one in which the Russian fighter, scrambled from Hmeymim air base in Syria, “shadowed” the US spy plane which apparently came too close to the Syrian coast for comfort.
The Navy’s 6th Fleet released video of Sunday’s incident in which a Russian SU-35 Flanker came dangerously close to a Navy P-8A surveillance aircraft:
The Russian MoD said Monday: “On April 19, the Russian equipment controlling the airspace over the neutral waters of the Mediterranean Sea detected an air target performing a flight towards Russia’s military facilities in the Syrian Arab Republic,” according to TASS. “A fighter jet from the air defense alert quick reaction force of the Hmeymim air base was scrambled to identify the target.”
“The aircraft of Russia’s Aerospace Force performed and perform all flights in strict compliance with the international rules of using the airspace over neutral waters,” the statement added.
Gen. Tod Wolters, Commander of US European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, has subsequently said he’s protested Russia’s “unprofessional” and potentially dangerous maneuvers involving US planes over the Mediterranean directly with counterparts in Moscow.