Russian attack jets flew “dangerously close” to a U.S. Navy destroyer numerous times in the Baltic Sea this week, according to U.S. officials, continuing a pattern of behavior in the region that the Defense Department has previously decried.
The incidents occurred Monday and Tuesday, with the planes making multiple passes by the USS Donald Cook, a destroyer, while it was traveling in international waters, U.S. European Command officials said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. The organization released videos that show the jets roaring by at a high rate of speed, seemingly no more than a few hundred feet away.
“We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers,” European Command said. “These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death. U.S. officials are using existing diplomatic channels to address the interactions, while the incidents are also being reviewed through U.S. Navy channels.”
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) April 13, 2016
Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, called the maneuvers unprofessional and credited the crew on the Donald Cook for how they handled themselves.
“Bravo Zulu to the crew of USS Donald Cook for their initiative and toughness in how they handled themselves during this incident,” the admiral said on Facebook.
The first incident occurred April 11 while the destroyer was carrying out deck landing drills with a military helicopter from Poland. The Russian jets made “numerous, close-range and low-altitude passes” around 3 p.m., one of which was deemed unsafe by the Donald Cook’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Charles E. Hampton. As a safety precaution, flight operations were suspending until the Su-24s departed, military officials said.
The following day, a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter conducted seven circles at low altitude around the American ship about 5 p.m. About 40 minutes later, two unarmed Su-24 jets made 11 close-range and low-altitude passes by the ship, flying in “simulated attack profile” while ignoring repeated safety advisories issued by the destroyer in both English and Russian, European Command said.
The incidents are “entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international waters and international airspace,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.
“There have been repeated incidents over the last year where the Russian military, including Russian military aircraft, have come close enough to each other or have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns, and we continue to be concerned about this behavior,” Earnest said.
Russian planes have buzzed numerous ships over the past two years in the region, including the Donald Cook in the Black Sea nearly two years ago to the day.
The incident occurred as Washington and Moscow continue to clash on how to handle military operations in Syria and Ukraine. Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S. military campaign in Iraq and Syria, told reporters Wednesday in a briefing from Baghdad that he heard “the Russians are up to their old tricks again” in the European region, but did not provide additional details.
The Donald Cook recently made a stop in the Polish port of Gdynia, according to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Poland. The ship is one of four that the Navy sent forward recently from the United States to boost security in Europe. It carries an arsenal that includes rocket launchers, anti-submarine missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles.
This story was initially published at 12:57 p.m. and updated with significant new detail and images of the Russian jets.
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