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Russia bewildered by U.S. Navy's 'painful reaction' to jet buzz

By Andrew V. Pestano
A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook on Tuesday during maneuvers in international waters in the Baltic Sea. Russia defended its actions on Thursday, stating its warplanes acted in accordance to international law. The USS Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, forward deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy
1 of 6 | A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook on Tuesday during maneuvers in international waters in the Baltic Sea. Russia defended its actions on Thursday, stating its warplanes acted in accordance to international law. The USS Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, forward deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy

MOSCOW, April 14 (UPI) -- Russia on Thursday said its warplanes acted according to international law during training flights in the Baltic Sea after U.S. Navy officials accused them of aggressively buzzing the USS Donald Cook.

"On April 13, crews of Sukhoi Su-24 planes of the Russian air force made planned training flights above the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said, TASS Russian news agency reported. "The route of the Russian aircraft crossed the area where the USS Donald Cook was -- about 70 kilometers [43 miles] from the Russian naval base."

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The USS Donald Cook was carrying out landing deck drills with partner nation forces on Monday when two Russian-flagged Su-24 fighter jets "made numerous, close-range and low-altitude passes" above the vessel "in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian," according to a statement by Navy officials with U.S. European Command.

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Navy commanders suspended the training mission until the jets left the area.

The next day, a Russian KA-27 Helix attack helicopter buzzed the Donald Cook, again forcing its crew to suspend ongoing flight operations. As the Helix continued to circle the deck, two more Su-24 fighters flew 11 aggressive, low passes over the ship, according to the Navy.

The U.S. Navy posted a video of one of the encounters on YouTube appearing to show what it describes as a Russian jet coming within 1,000 feet of the ship, with one photo showing a jet 30 feet off the ship's deck.

Russia's Defense Ministry said the Su-24 planes acted in accordance with international law.

"Spotting the ship within the visibility zone, the Russian pilots turned their aircraft away from the vessel fully observing the safety measures," Konashenkov said, adding that "all flights of aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces are performed strictly in accordance with the international regulations on the use of airspace over neutral waters."

The U.S. Navy expressed "deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers" that could "unnecessarily escalate tensions" or "could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death."

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White House press secretary John Earnest on Wednesday said the incidents are "entirely inconsistent" with established military practices when operating within international waters or airspace.

Konashenkov said he was surprised by the U.S. reaction to the incident.

"Frankly speaking, even does not understand the reason for such a painful reaction of our American colleagues," Konashenkov said. "The principle of freedom of navigation for the U.S. destroyer, which is staying in close proximity to a Russian naval base in the Baltic Sea, does at all not cancel the principle of freedom of flight for Russian aircraft."

In a strikingly similar incident in 2014, the USS Donald Cook was also subjected to a "provocative and unprofessional" incident in which two Russian Su-24 planes made 12 passes near the destroyer.

Amid heated tensions following the Russian annexation of Crimea earlier that year, Army Col. Steve Warren said the the Russian acts "do nothing to deescalate the situation in Ukraine, which we called on the Russians to do."

UPI Security Writer Carlo Munoz contributed to this report.

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