Russia Says Intercept US, Swedish Spy Jets Over Baltic Sea

By Reuters

Russian Defence Ministry said on Tuesday, June 11, its Su-27 jet intercepted U.S. and Swedish reconnaissance planes over the Baltic Sea where NATO is holding naval drills Baltops-2019.

“On June 10, Russia airspace control means over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea detected two air targets approaching Russia’s state border,” the ministry said in a statement.

It also said a Su-27 fighter jet of the Baltic Fleet’s Air Defence Force was scrambled to intercept the targets. The Russian fighter identified them as U.S. RC-135 and Swedish Gulfstream reconnaissance jets. Both were escorted to prevent “the violation of Russia’s state border,” the defense ministry said.

The RC-135 is a reconnaissance aircraft used primarily for intelligence collection purposes.

The Russians also released what they said was a video of the interception.

A U.S. military official confirmed the encounter, but said it was safe and professional.

“A RC-135 was flying a routine mission in international airspace over the Baltic sea. It was intercepted by a Russian Federation SU-27 aircraft. The intercept was deemed safe,” another U.S. official told CNN.

The latest known interception over the Baltic Sea came as the U.S. formally delivered a diplomatic protest known as a demarche to the Russian government on Monday over a near collision between a Russian warship and a U.S. Navy ship in the Philippine Sea on Friday, according to a U.S. official.

The chargé d’affaires in the U.S. embassy in Moscow delivered the protest to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Monday morning, and the U.S. defense attaché in Moscow delivered a similar message to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the official said.

US and Russian Warships Nearly Collide in the Pacific

A Russian destroyer made an “unsafe maneuver” in the Philippine Sea on June 7, nearly colliding with a United States ship, according to the Navy.

Russia’s Pacific Fleet said that the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, had come within just 50 meters (165 feet) of the Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov which had been forced to take emergency action to avoid a collision, Russian news agencies reported.

That version of events was rejected by the U.S. Navy, which said the behavior of the Russian ship had been “unsafe and unprofessional.”

“While operating in the Philippine Sea, a Russian Destroyer…made an unsafe maneuver against USS Chancellorsville,” U.S. Seventh Fleet spokesman Commander Clayton Doss said.

“This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision.”

He described a Russian assertion that the U.S. ship had acted dangerously as “propaganda.” The Russian destroyer came within 50 to 100 feet of the Chancellorsville, he said, putting the safety of her crew and the ship at risk.

The U.S. Navy said the incident occurred in the Philippine Sea while the Russian report said it happened in the East China Sea. The boundary between the two bodies of water is the Senakaku Islands (also known as the Diaoyu islands in China), to the south of Japan and east of Taiwan.

Regardless, the incident occurred in international waters and unusually far away from Russia, according to Carl Schuster, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.

“The Russians normally harass our ships when they are operating in waters the Russian consider to be within their sphere of Influence (Black Sea, Barents Sea, and the waters off Validvostok),” said Schuster, who spent 12 years at sea on U.S. warships.

“Putin clearly has ordered the Russian Navy to pressure the USN whenever opportunities exist. It may possibly be a show of political support for China while Xi is in Moscow, but more likely to signal that Russia is willing to challenge the U.S. dominance on the world stage and at sea,” he said.

Russian naval destroyer and American warship
A screen grab from video shows the Russian naval destroyer Udaloy making what the U.S. Navy describes as an unsafe maneuver against the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville in the Philippine Sea on June 7, 2019. (U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters)

International maritime law requires ships to maintain a safe distance, normally interpreted as 1,000 yards, when passing another, Schuster added. It also requires navies not to interfere with another ship conducting flight operations, he said.

The CNN Wire contributed to this report.