A pair of Russian fighter jets and a Russian military helicopter repeatedly buzzed a U.S. Navy warship at close range earlier this week in the Baltic Sea, ignoring radio warnings and temporarily disrupting the ship’s flight operations.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that two Russian fighter jets flew “dangerously close” to the U.S. guided missile destroyer Donald Cook as it conducted a routine patrol on Monday and Tuesday.
U.S. officials estimated the Su-24 fighter jets flew as close as 30 feet from the American ship.
“This incident, as you won’t be surprised to hear, is entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international waters and international airspace,” Earnest said.
“Any peacetime military activity must be consistent with international law and norms and conducted with due regard for the rights of other nations and the safety of other aircraft and other vessels,” he added.
U.S. European Command, which oversees military operations on the continent, said in a statement that the Russian jets flew “numerous close-range and low-altitude passes” near the ship.
Russia is one of nine countries in northern Europe with coastline along the Baltic Sea. Tensions have risen steadily in recent years between Moscow and Washington over disputes including Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the conflict in Syria.
The U.S. statement said the first flyby occurred around 3 p.m. local time Monday when the Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with a Polish military helicopter. It said the jets made numerous passes.
“One of the passes, which occurred while the Allied helicopter was refueling on the deck of Donald Cook, was deemed unsafe by the ship’s commanding officer,” the statement said. “As a safety precaution, flight operations were suspended until the SU-24s departed the area. “
At about 5 p.m. Tuesday, the statement said, a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter flew low-altitude circles around the ship, looping it seven times.
About 40 minutes later, two Russian SU-24 jets flew 11 close-range and low-altitude passes “in a simulated attack profile.”
The pilots did not respond to several radio advisories in both English and Russian, the statement said.
“We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers,” the European Command statement said. “These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death.”
Officials said the Navy is reviewing the incidents and that U.S. officials are using diplomatic channels to address the Russians.
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