As the war of wills heats up between Russia and the United States in the Middle East, all eyes quickly switched once again to the Baltic Sea region as an armed Russian fighter jet buzzed an unarmed U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft on Monday. The incident, involved a Russian Su-27 fighter jet armed with air-to-air missiles which approached the U.S. RC-135 recon jet . The Russian jet “rapidly, approached” from the aircraft’s rear, coming within five feet of the American aircraft, the officials said.
According to another official, once the Russian jet was along side the unarmed surveillance plane it engaged in “provocative” and “erratic” flight maneuvers. In just the last 18 days, there have been over 35 interactions in the Baltic Sea region between U.S. and Russian jets and warships, but this incident is notable because the U.S. military officials have formally labeled it “unsafe.”
In addition, this incident comes just one day after the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that they would treat any U.S. jet flying west of the Euphrates River in Syria as a threat and potential target. The statement came after a Syrian plane was shot down by an F-18 Hornet after it repeatedly dropped bombs on U.S. Supported military units fighting ISIS in the Raqqa area of the country.
Meanwhile, back in the Baltic region, tensions have been increasing ever since Putin’s takeover of the Crimea and support for Ukrainian Rebels. Russian jets buzzed a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer back in February in the Black Sea. That incident occurred at the same time the U.S. Was bolstering NATO forces in the area by deploying dozens of tanks along with about 500 U.S. Army combat soldiers at a nearby port in Romania. Just two months later, that same destroyer, the USS Porter, participated in the Tomahawk cruise missile attack that was directed at the Syrian airbase believed to have been used to launch chemical attacks against its own citizens.
Also in a move that was designed to build confidence for the free Baltic States and slap the face of the Russians, the U.S. military has participated in a large military training exercise in the Baltic region for the past month. Those exercises include the use of B-52 nuclear-capable bombers and the long-range B-1 bomber all of which are being flown within a few miles of the Russian border. In addition, the Baltic Sea became a very busy place as dozens of U.S. and allied warships also participated in the exercise amid heightened tensions with Russia. The “Baltops” exercise concluded over the weekend.
It was not immediately clear how close the US military recon jet was flying near Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between NATO allies Poland and Lithuania. Last fall, Russian moved nuclear-capable ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, putting some European capitals in strike range. This action led to the build up of NATO forces and the recent Baltops military exercise.