Russian military aircraft were scrambled to head off a U.S. warship that was acting "aggressively" in the Black Sea, state news agency RIA reported on Saturday, but the Pentagon denied any unusual behavior.
RIA quoted an anonymous source in Russia's armed forces in Crimea as saying that the guided missile destroyer USS Ross was moving along the edge of Russia's territorial waters and heading in their direction.
"The crew of the ship acted provocatively and aggressively, which concerned the operators of monitoring stations and ships of the Black Sea Fleet," RIA quoted the source as saying.
"Su-24 attack aircraft demonstrated to the American crew readiness to harshly prevent a violation of the frontier and to defend the interests of the country."
Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said the USS Ross was "well within international waters at all times, performing routine operations."
"The U.S. Navy operates routinely in the Black Sea, in accordance with international law," Lainez said, noting the Ross's deployment to the Black Sea had been publicly announced.
Defense Department spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told US News and World Report that Russian media has hyped the flyby:
"The Russian planes were naked. In other words, no weapons aboard, no weapons on her wings,” he said. The USS Ross never changed course, he added, and nobody on board or at U.S. Navy Europe headquarters assessed the jets’ actions as threatening. The jets came within 500 meters of the destroyer, flying at an altitude of roughly 200 feet.
“This was just two groups operating in international airspace,” Warren said. “We do not assess it was in any way aggressive. This was simply a ship and a plane passing – in the day, in this case.”
The incident is the latest example of encounters between Russian and Western militaries, as tensions continue over the crisis in Ukraine and Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet, last year. Increased Russian military activity in the Baltic region and the North Atlantic has added to tension.
Earlier this month, both Britain and Sweden said that they had scrambled fighters to intercept Russian bombers near their territory.
Swedish fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea close to the Swedish border on May 21, Sweden's military said.
Sweden, which is not a member of NATO, said it had intercepted two Tu-22M "Backfire" bombers heading in the direction of the Swedish island of Oland, south of Stockholm.
"They were up identifying these airplanes -- telling them 'Hey, we see you'," said Jesper Tengroth, Sweden's military spokesman.
The United States said last month that it was filing a complaint to Russia over a Russian fighter's "sloppy" and unsafe interception of a U.S. reconnaissance plane in international aerospace over the Baltic Sea. (Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie)