Moscow to US: If You Don’t Like Being Buzzed by Our Fighters, Stay Away From ‘Russia’s Borders’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 1, 2018 | 7:58pm EST
A still from a U.S. Navy-supplied video clip shows a Russia Su-27 fighter crossing the flightpath of the EP-3 over the Black Sea on Monday. (Screen capture: U.S. Navy)

( – Russia’s foreign ministry accused the United States Thursday of deliberately stirring up “Russophobic” sentiment by making a “fuss” about a U.S. Navy surveillance plane being buzzed over the Black Sea, while the defense ministry advised U.S. military aircraft to steer clear of Russia’s purported borders.

The January 29 incident occurred near Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula whose 2014 annexation by Russia is not recognized by the U.S. or most of the international community.

The defense ministry in Moscow said it wished to remind the U.S. Navy that “Crimea is an integral part of Russia” and advised it to supply its air crews “with updated maps showing the correct borders of Russia’s airspace.”

The U.S. Navy released additional video footage Thursday, showing how close a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter came to the U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries on Monday.

The clips show the nose of the heavily-armed Su-27 poking out from behind the propellers of the much slower moving, long-range spy plane. (The EP-3 has a maximum speed of around 480 mph compared to the Su-27’s ability to fly at twice the speed of sound, around 1,500 mph.)

The U.S. Navy said the Russian plane’s maneuvers brought it “within five feet of the EP-3’s right wingtip” before crossing its flightpath “within 10 feet and executing a sharp dive below, which resulted in violent turbulence for the U.S. EP-3 and its crewmembers.”

“For the Russian fighter aircraft to fly this close to the U.S. Navy aircraft, especially for extended periods of time, is unsafe,” said Captain Bill Ellis, commander of the Sicily-based Task Force 67, which provides support to the U.S. Sixth Fleet and U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa.

“The smallest lapse of focus or error in airmanship by the intercepting aircrew can have disastrous consequences,” Ellis said. “There is no margin for error and insufficient time or space for our aircrews to take corrective action.”

(A midair collision in 2001 between a U.S. Navy EP-3 and a Chinese F-8 fighter jet over the South China Sea cost the life of the Chinese pilot and sparked a serious diplomatic crisis.

Beijing called the incident a deliberate ramming; the U.S. said it was an accident that occurred when the fighter got too close while observing the EP-3. The spy plane was grounded on China’s Hainan island and its 24 crew members were detained for 11 days.)

The foreign ministry is Moscow said the U.S. was deliberating making a “fuss” over what it said have become “routine episodes of escorting each other’s planes.”

It accused the U.S. of wanting to  “stir up Russophobic sentiments in the media and to accuse Russia of aggressive actions.”

“We just want to note that this practice scarcely matches the wish to settle emerging problems in a civilized manner,” the ministry added.

A U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries surveillance plane like the one involved in the January 29 incident. (Photo: U.S. Navy/U.S. Pacific Command, File)

‘Fall into depression or succumb to any phobias’

The defense ministry said the U.S. should either stop flying military planes near Russia’s borders, or agree on rules for such flights – something which the U.S. has long displayed a reluctance to enter into dialogue over, it said.

“The Aerospace Force will continue to maintain the reliable protection of Russian airspace,” the ministry said. “Should American pilots, knowing this fact, fall into depression or succumb to any phobias, we advise the U.S. side to exclude these flight routes near Russia’s borders in the future, or return to the negotiating table and agree on their rules.”

The ministry claimed that the maneuvers of the Russian fighter plane on January 29 had been “standard, absolutely legal and perfectly safe for the American surveillance plane.”

“Similar maneuvers by NATO planes near Russia’s Aerospace Force planes over the Baltic, Barents, Norwegian and North seas cause absolutely no effects on Russian crews.”

One thing both sides agreed on was that the incident had lasted for some time. The U.S. Navy said the “intercept” lasted for two hours and 40 minutes; Russia disputed the terminology, saying that an “intercept” takes just minutes, and arguing that was happened was a routine “escort” mission.

“The Sukhoi-27 plane for more than two hours and twenty minutes prevented the U.S. surveillance plane from approaching Russia’s air space near Crimea,” the defense ministry said, “so such a flight could not be called ‘interception,’ because the right term for it would be ‘escort.’”

Earlier the State Department denounced the incident, which spokeswoman Heather Nauert called “the latest example of Russian military activities disregarding international norms and agreements.”

“We call on Russia to cease these unsafe actions that increase the risk of miscalculation, danger to aircrew on both sides, and midair collisions,” she said.

Only a small handful of countries, mostly hostile to the U.S., have recognized its annexation of Crimea, which followed a referendum also rejected by the majority of the world’s governments.

They include North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and the Assad regime in Syria.


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