Two Russian fighter jets have been accused of flying in ‘an unsafe and unprofessional manner’ while intercepting a US spy plane.
The Su-35 fighters surrounded a P-8A US plane as it flew over the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, the US Navy revealed in a statement.
It’s the third time in two months Russian pilots buzzed US aircraft. The fighters ‘took close station of the spy plane’ over a period of 65 minutes, the statement read.
It added: ‘While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible.
‘We expect them to operate within international standards set to ensure safety.’
The Su-35 fighters surrounded a P-8A US plane as it flew over the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, the US Navy revealed in a statement
The proximity of the two planes made it impossible for the US aircraft to ‘safely maneuver’.
‘The unnecessary actions of the Russian Su-35 pilots were inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules, and jeopardized the safety of flight of both aircraft,’ the statement said.
The US Navy denied provoking the attack and added they had been acting within the law.
It’s the third time in two months Russian pilots buzzed US aircraft. The fighters ‘took close station of the spy plane’ over a period of 65 minutes, the statement read
A Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter takes off during an air show at the Teknofest festival at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on September 17, 2019
It comes just days after President Donald Trump said Russian violations make it untenable for the US to stay in a treaty that permits 30-plus nations to conduct observation flights over each other’s territory.
The Open Skies Treaty that governs the unarmed overflights was initially set up to promote trust and avert conflict between the US and Russia.
The Trump administration informed other members of the treaty that it will pull out in six months because Russia is violating the pact and imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from US or commercial satellites.
‘Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty. So until they adhere, we will pull out, but there´s a very good chance we´ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together,’ Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving for Michigan on Thursday, May 21.
‘So I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to pull out and they [the Russians] are going to come back and want to make a deal,’ Trump said. ‘I think something very positive will work.’
Out: Donald Trump said as he left for Michigan that the US would quit the Open Skies treaty
Monitoring: Russia uses Tu-154 jets fitted with surveillance equipment for the flights. Among places they have flown over in recent years are Minuteman nuclear missile bunkers, Area 51, the Capitol and Donald Trump’s New Jersey golf club
The US announcement that it plans to leave the treaty is expected to strain relations with Moscow and upset some members of Congress and European allies, which benefit from the imagery collected by Open Skies flights conducted by the US.
In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko criticized the US decision.
‘Our position is absolutely clear and is invariable: The withdrawal of the US from this treaty will come as yet another blow to the system of military security in Europe, which is already weakened by the previous moves by the administration,’ Grushko told state news agency Tass.
Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the president has made clear that the United States will not remain a party to international agreements being violated by the other parties and are no longer in America’s interests.
He said Russian violations prompted Trump last year to pull out of the 1987 nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
A flight path took the spy plane to Bedminster, New Jersey in August 2017
That treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, banned production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles).
Trump’s decision to exit the Open Skies Treaty also raises questions about his commitment to extending or renegotiating the New START treaty, which expires early next year.
New START, the only remaining treaty constraining the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, imposes limits on the number of US and Russian long-range nuclear warheads and launchers.
Russia has offered to extend the treaty, but Trump is holding out in hopes of negotiating a three-way agreement with the US and China.
‘We look forward to negotiating with both Russia and China on a new arms control framework that moves beyond the Cold War constructs of the past and helps keep the entire world safe,’ O’Brien said in a statement.
A satellite graphic of where a Russian Air Force jet was flying over Montana in August 2019 was posted on Twitter
President Dwight Eisenhower first proposed that the United States and the former Soviet Union allow aerial reconnaissance flights over each other´s territory in July 1955.
At first, Moscow rejected the idea, but President George H.W. Bush revived it in May 1989, and the treaty entered into force in January 2002. Currently, 34 nations have signed it; Kyrgyzstan has signed but not ratified it yet.
The Russian flights over US sites have included a flyover of the Capitol and a trip to the Bedminster, New Jersey golf course where Trump was staying at the time.
An unarmed Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-154M conducted several sweeps of the nation’s capital in August 2017 before heading northeast to Bedmoinster.
The plane was at around 3,700 feet as it passed over downtown D.C. It also passed by Joint Base Andrews, home to Air Force One and the Marine One fleet.
Russians have operated surveillance flights over several military installations, including Area 51 in southern Nevada. Pictured: Radar shows the flight’s pattern
The flight path also took it into southern Pennsylvania near the Civil War battlefield at Chambersburg, as well as a corner of West Virginia.
It also flew near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
Next on the itinerary was a flight to New Jersey, where Trump was staying at his Bedminster golf course – on a day he fired off tweets touting the US nuclear arsenal and military capabilities amid a stand-off with North Korea.
Last year the flights passed over top-secret Minuteman nuclear missile sites in Montana and Area 51.
The US has its own dedicated Open Skies plane, a specially modified version of the C-135 Stratolifter transport aircraft.
The OC-135B was adapted from a group of planes which were designed with sensors to pick up evidence of nuclear explosions.
More than 1,500 flights have been conducted under the treaty, aimed at fostering transparency about military activity and helping monitor arms control and other agreements.
It’s legal under the Treaty on Open Skies, which allows countries to monitor each other to collect data on military forces and activities. Pictured: The aircraft flying over Edwards Air Force Base in Kern County California
Each nation in the treaty agrees to make all its territory available for surveillance flights, yet Russia has restricted flights over certain areas.
Last month, top Democrats on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees in both the House and the Senate wrote to Trump accusing the president of ‘ramming’ a withdrawal from the treaty as the entire world grapples with COVID-19.
They said it would undermine US alliances with European allies who rely on the treaty to keep Russia accountable for its military activities in the region.
‘The administration’s effort to make a major change to our national security policy in the midst of a global health crisis is not only shortsighted, but also unconscionable,’ wrote Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
‘This effort appears intended to limit appropriate congressional consultation on, and scrutiny of, the decision,’ they wrote.