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Russian warplanes fly near U.S. destroyer off Crimean coast

Russian media said the USS Cole was acting "aggressively," but the U.S. Navy released video of the encounter to show it was "routine."

By Fred Lambert

SEVASTOPOL, Russia, June 2 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy on Monday released video of an encounter between Russian warplanes and a U.S. destroyer operating off the Crimean coast in the Black Sea.

The video, uploaded to YouTube by U.S. Naval Forces Europe, shows a Su-24 flying about 1,640 feet off the side of the USS Ross at about 600 feet in altitude.

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A total of six Su-24s reportedly flew by the Ross, which was 25 miles off the coast of Crimea.

Russian state media, quoting a Russian military source, said the Ross was acting "provocatively and aggressively" and that the warplanes drove the ship from Russian territorial waters.

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Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said on Monday, however, that the encounter was routine, and the Ross's deployment to the Black Sea had been publicly announced.

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Captioned with the uploaded video was this description:

USS Ross (DDG 71) observes the overflight by a Russian Su-24 aircraft while both were operating in international waters and airspace. Ross continued on her mission after observing the aircraft return to base. At no time did Ross act aggressively nor did she deviate from her planned operations. The conduct of her crew has been and continues to be professional. Ross' sailors observed that the Su-24 carried no weapons -- wings were "clean." The U.S. Navy operates ships in the Black Sea on a routine basis, consistent with the Montreux Convention and International Law.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Western powers and Russia over the Ukraine conflict. In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea following a vote in the peninsula to secede from Ukraine. Since then, the West has accused Russia of supplying separatists in Ukraine's east with weaponry and troops, which Moscow has denied.

The West issued economic sanctions against Russia, which Moscow protested recently by black-listing 89 European politicians and military leaders from traveling inside its borders.

Monday's incident joins a trend of Russian and Western military craft coming close by or violating territorial airspace and waters.

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In late May, Latvia, a NATO ally of the United States, said it observed two Russian submarines near its territorial waters just days after spotting a Russian transport plane flying near its airspace.

In early May two Russian military bombers with nuclear capabilities reportedly flew into a U.S. air defense zone near Alaska. The prior year, U.S. military fighter jets intercepted Russian aircraft in air defense zones on at least six occasions.

In mid-April, the UK Royal Air Force intercepted Russian bombers flying near British airspace, and two days earlier, the United States protested the "unsafe" and "unprofessional" interception of a U.S. RC-135U reconnaissance aircraft by a Russian SU-27 fighter jet over international airspace north of Poland.

The United States has so far sent training advisers and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but last week U.S. Vice President Joe Biden suggested the possibility of supplying the country with weapons.

Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO, has traditionally fallen into the orbit of Russia.

On May 29, Russian state media TASS quoted Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov as saying upcoming missile defense drills involving the United States, Norway, the UK, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands and France "will be conducted in the north-eastern part of the Atlantic and this can signal only that there are plans to practice intercepting Russian ballistic missiles. Such drills cannot but concern us."

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A mid-May poll showed 59 percent of Russians considered the United States to be a threat, with 31 percent fearing the possibility of a U.S. invasion and occupation.

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