Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft make a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook on April 12 during maneuvers in international waters in the Baltic Sea. Russia defended its actions, 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
BRUSSELS, April 21 (UPI) -- A Russian diplomat was critical of the presence of a U.S. warship in the Baltic Sea, which he said provoked flyovers by Russian military aircraft last week.
After a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday between NATO and Russian representatives -- the first in nearly two years -- Alexander Grushko, Russian ambassador to NATO, referred to the presence of the destroyer USS Donald Cook in waters near Kaliningrad as a provocation. Kaliningrad is a non-contiguous enclave of Russia between Poland and Lithuania and the site of several Russian military bases
Russian fighter planes flew close to the ship on several occasions on April 12 and 13, prompting an increase in tensions between Russia and the United States.
On April 14, a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane was chased by a Russian fighter plane over the Baltic Sea; the Russian plane executed a barrel-roll over the U.S. plane.
The U.S. Navy posted a video of the incident with the ship on YouTube.
NATO and U.S. officials called the Russian maneuvers dangerous and unprofessional. A similar situation evolved in 2014 when the the USS Donald Cook was also involved in an incident in which two Russian Su-24 planes made 12 passes near the destroyer, a situation the United States called "provocative and unprofessional."
"First and foremost, I'd like to stress the full compliance with international law of the actions of Russian fighter jets. Still, the key issue is what the Donald Cook was doing so close to Kaliningrad. Could anyone possibly suppose that a destroyer fitted out with 2,500-kilometer [1,553-mile] range cruise missiles, which can carry nuclear warheads, might be cruising in the waters off New York? This wasn't military activity proper but rather an attempt to exert pressure on Russia," Grushko said.
The meeting lasted more three hours -- longer than scheduled -- and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg referred to it as "frank and serious."
"NATO allies and Russia hold very different views. But we have listened to what each other had to say," he said.
Although Grushko accused NATO of militarizing the Baltic region, an area of small NATO countries are concerned about Russia's 2014 incursion into Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said after the meeting, "Everything NATO does in the Baltic region is proportional, it is defensive and it is fully in line with our international agreements. We are responding to the substantial military buildup by Russia."