Russian fighter jets flew “dangerously close” to a US Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea on numerous occasions this week, US officials said on Wednesday, ramping up tensions in Europe between the two militaries.
US officials said that the repeated buzzing by Russian warplanes, which took place on Monday and Tuesday, was “unprofessional” and had the potential to cause an accident that could escalate.
The Pentagon released video footage of some of the incidents which it said represented a clear attempt to harass the vessel.
“These types of unprofessional Russian flight manoeuvres have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between our two countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident,” Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said.
The incidents repeat a pattern that was evident after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, but which had been less common in recent months.
They come as the US and Russia are working together to sponsor peace talks in Syria amid Moscow’s claims that it has withdrawn significant forces from the country but also amid an increase in fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The US military has complained of indications that Russian submarines could be monitoring critical telecommunications cables on the Atlantic seabed, part of an increase in Russian submarine activity in the region over the past two years.
“I hear the Russians are up to their old tricks again” in Europe, said Colonel Steve Warren, a US military spokesman in Baghdad, in relation to the incidents.
US European Command said that the USS Donald Cook encountered “multiple, aggressive flight manoeuvres” while sailing in international waters in the Baltic Sea. On Monday, two SU-24 jets buzzed the destroyer at low altitude, causing the vessel to suspend deck-landing drills that it was conducting with a military helicopter.
On Tuesday, a KA-27 Helix helicopter circled the ship seven times and then two SU-24s made 11 passes over the USS Donald Cook using the profile of a “simulated attack” and ignoring safety advisories issued in English and Russian, US officials said. The Military Times reported that the planes came within 30 feet of the destroyer.
The video footage shows a Russian plane flying low alongside the USS Donald Cook and at another time flying directly over the ship.
“In my judgment these manoeuvres in close proximity to Donald Cook are unprofessional and unsafe,” said Admiral Mark Ferguson, commander of US Naval Forces in Europe.
Josh Earnest, White House spokesman, said that the incidents were “entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international waters”.