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Russia warns US over aircraft close encounters

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry complained to the US Embassy in Moscow Wednesday of “provocative actions” by the US and NATO and warned of “dangerous consequences” amid tension over a Russian military buildup along the border with Ukraine.

In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova specified four incidents dating back to early October that involved close encounters between US or NATO aircraft and Russian civilian planes over the Black Sea.

“The US military and its NATO allies have gone from attempts to test the strength of our border protection system to provocations against civilian aircraft, which jeopardises [sic] the safety of the airspace and puts human lives in danger,” said Zakharova, who went on to claim that only “sheer luck and the quick thinking of Russian pilots and air traffic controllers” prevented tragedy.

The most recent incident took place Dec. 3 when a US Air Force CL-600 reconnaissance plane flew over the Black Sea and crossed onto a route “reserved for civil aircraft,” Zakharova said, adding that the US crew failed to respond to Russian air traffic controllers.

An Aeroflot Airbus 330
Russia said a US reconnaissance plane flew over the Black Sea and crossed onto a route “reserved for civil aircraft.”
Fabrizio Gandolfo / SOPA Images/

In response, she continued, the controllers “gave a command” to the pilots of an Aeroflot flight, who took action to prevent a collision.

On the same day, the Russians said, a Maltese airliner “narrowly escaped” colliding with an Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane, which was escorted out of the area by scrambled Russian military aircraft.

Two months earlier, on Oct. 6, a Reaper drone — a type often used by the US, the UK, and Italian militaries — nearly collided with a Russian aircraft above the Black Sea coast, Zakharova alleged, adding that destruction was only avoided by the Russian pilots “swiftly” changing route. 

In this video grab provided by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service and released Thursday, March 7, 2019, A U.S. intelligence plane is seen from the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet flying over the Baltic Sea in a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry.  The Russian Defense Ministry said it scrambled a Su-27 fighter jet to escort the U.S. RC-135 aircraft that was flying near Russia's border, without giving information about the date of the incident.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it scrambled a Su-27 fighter jet to escort the U.S. RC-135 aircraft that was flying near Russia’s border.
Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Seven days after that, Moscow claimed, a RC-135 flew “dangerously close” to an Azur Air passenger aircraft, which was allegedly forced to make a “steep descent” to avoid a collision.

“To reiterate, the unacceptable and dangerous activities of the aircraft operated by NATO member countries, with US and NATO military aircraft flying without radio communication or flight plans and failing to obtain air traffic control clearances, are fraught with serious risks to the safety of civil aircraft, which violates basic principles of international air navigation … and other international laws,” Zakharova said. 

The ministry statement concluded with a call for “substantive dialogue on security guarantees and a discussion of pathways to reduce military and political tensions and to prevent dangerous incidents in the air and at sea.

“Otherwise, all the means at our disposal will be used to prevent and neutralise [sic] emerging threats.”

The warning comes the same week US President Biden held a secure video meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid growing fears that Russian forces will attack Ukraine.

In this image provided by The White House, President Joe Biden speaks as he meets virtually via a secure video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Situation Room at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.
President Biden speaks as he meets virtually via a secure video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Situation Room at the White House on Dec. 7, 2021.
Adam Schultz/The White House via AP

“I was very straightforward. There were no minced words. It was polite, but I made it very clear,” Biden told reporters Wednesday. “If, in fact, he [Putin] invades Ukraine, there will be severe consequences, severe consequences. Economic consequences like none he’s ever seen or ever have been seen.”

However, Biden made clear that the US would not send American forces to Ukraine if an invasion occurs, as the former Soviet republic is not a US treaty ally.

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