Russian jet intercepts US aircraft with 'unsafe' maneuvers

The Russian aircraft performed multiple interceptions of the US plane, with one tense encounter bringing the planes within 10 feet of each other.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/File
A man holds a Russian flag to mark National Flag Day in Moscow, Aug. 22, 2014.

A Russian plane made an "unsafe intercept" of a US Navy spy plane flying over the Black Sea Wednesday, say US officials.

The intercept this week is the latest in a series of encounters that evoke cold war posturing between Russia and the United States in the aftermath of World War II.

The American plane, a Boeing P-8A Poseidon, was reportedly intercepted four times by a Russian SU-27 Flanker as it flew through international airspace. The US pilot reported one of those intercepts as particularly unsafe.

US and Russian ships and planes regularly interact amicably and professionally when patrolling across international waters and skies. But this week the Russian plane got within a dangerous 10 feet of the US plane for a duration of 19 minutes, reported the Associated Press. At that range, a minor error from either pilot could have destroyed both aircraft.

"We have concerns when there is an unsafe maneuver like this," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told the AP. "These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions, and could result in a miscalculation or accident."

Russian authorities say the US aircraft provoked interception when the spy plane approached its borders with its transponders off, according to Reuters. Transponder signals identify a plane's location and country of origin, and assist in preventing collisions.

"After the Russian fighters got close to the spy planes for visual confirmation and to determine their wing numbers, the American aircraft changed course sharply and flew away," Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a release, according to the BBC. "The Russia pilots acted in strict accordance with international rules for flights." 

US officials, however, insist that the US plane's transponder was active the whole time, and that the Russian pilot responded to the US aircraft in a "dangerous and unprofessional" manner.

This is not the first encounter like this between US and Russian forces. The Christian Science Monitor reported an incident in April when Russian planes repeatedly buzzed a US Navy destroyer in what the commander of the US vessel called "a simulated attack."  During that incident, Russian officials also insisted that the jets were not doing anything wrong, claiming the maneuvers were "conducted in strict compliance to the international rules of airspace management over neutral waters."

This latest incident occurs as tensions between the two countries remain high.

In July, NATO leaders agreed to deploy military forces to Poland and various Baltic states and increase patrols to reassure former Soviet bloc allies, according to Reuters, and the US and Russia are already at odds in Ukraine and Syria.

The interception over the Black Sea comes as Russia carries out military exercises in the area.

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