- Russian fighter jets intercepted several American military planes in the Black Sea on Friday.
- The meeting is the latest in a region of Europe that is seeing increasing military activity amid broader tensions between Russia and NATO member countries.
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Russian fighter jets on Friday intercepted US Navy and Air Force reconnaissance planes and a tanker over the Black Sea, the latest such encounter in a part of Europe that is increasingly seen as a flash point for tensions between Russia and other western countries.
A Sukhoi Su-30 rushed to intercept the U.S. plane: a Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, an Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, and a KC-135 tanker, while flying in airspace International on the Black Sea, Russia Defense Ministry said.
“The Russian fighter jet made the departure in strict compliance with international rules for the use of airspace,” the ministry said, adding that Russian radar tracked US planes, according to state-run media outlet Tass.
The Ministry also released images of the aircraft, including the refueling between the RC-135 and KC-135:
Russian and NATO military aircraft come into frequent contact in Europe. Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that 35 “spy planes of foreign states” were tracked flying near Russian borders in the past week.
Many of those encounters occur without incident. When asked about Friday’s encounter, a spokesman for the United States Naval Forces in Europe and Africa said the command does not comment on safe interceptions.
But the US has viewed some Russian behaviors as “unsafe and unprofessional,” as was the case in two encounters in mid-April, one of which saw a Russian fighter jet fly what the US Navy did. He described it as an “inverted maneuver” 25 feet ahead of a P-8A.
U.S. Navy pilots train specifically for such encounters, but are not limited to U.S. aircraft. Russian planes intercepted a British reconnaissance aircraft over the Black Sea in late May. Russian planes have also rattled NATO Navy ships in the Black Sea, as they have with U.S. Navy ships in other parts of Europe.
‘A sphere of privileged influence’
Military activity has increased in the Black Sea region, where tensions have risen since Russia’s 2014 takeover of the Crimean Peninsula and intervention in Ukraine.
“The Black Sea region is, in our assessment, the center of competition between Russia and the West for the future of Europe,” Stephen J. Flanagan, political scientist at the RAND Corporation, said at an event at the Eastern Middle East Institute month.
Conflicts have been simmering in the region for two decades, Flanagan said.
Russia is seeking to create “a privileged sphere of influence” there, using the media, diplomatic, economic, military and clandestine means to do so, Flanagan added, saying that Moscow “uses these tools to foment divisions among NATO allies and thwart the integration of partner countries in Euro-Atlantic structures “.
The Montreaux Convention limits the size and number of ships that non-Black Sea countries can send to the sea, as well as the time they can spend there, but NATO members, led by the United States, have tried to increase your activity there.
The United States Navy has spent “approximately 120 days a year” in the Black Sea, Admiral James Foggo, commander of the European and African Naval Forces, said in a speech on Thursday. The US Navy dock landing ship USS Oak Hill and the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter were in the Black Sea this month, exercising with NATO navies and other partners.
“Allied forces, such as NATO’s Permanent Maritime Group, conducted approximately the same number of patrols, so we maintain a presence in the Black Sea for approximately two-thirds of the year,” said Foggo. “I think it is a wonderful demonstration of our commitment to our Black Sea allies and partners.”
Those interactions include military exercises and cultural exchanges, but increased Russian activity in the region, as well as tensions between NATO and Turkey, which has the largest and most capable naval force in the Black Sea of any member of the NATO there have sparked calls for an alliance to focus more attention on the region and employ new and different weapons and tactics to counter Moscow there.
That attention has been changing, with the United States playing a leading role, Flanagan said.
American bombers in particular have spent more time in the region. In late May, US B-1B bombers made their first flight with Ukrainian Su-27 and MiG-29 fighter jets during an exercise in which the bombers also trained to launch the long-range anti-ship missile.
“It has been round trip, but overall I think NATO, among some of the other allies, is more recognizing the importance of the region,” added Flanagan. “It may sadly be a catalytic incident, but I think it is something the Alliance ignores at its own risk.”