WASHINGTON • A Russian military jet came within 9m of a US destroyer in international waters in the Baltic Sea, US officials say, but Russia defended the manoeuvre as safe.
Russian aircraft repeatedly buzzed the USS Donald Cook this week, including an incident on Tuesday in which a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 flew 9m above the ship in a "simulated attack profile", the US military's European Command (Eucom) said.
"We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight manoeuvres," Eucom said in a statement.
"These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries and could result in a miscalculation."
The repeated flights on Tuesday by the Su-24 warplanes, which also flew near the ship a day earlier, were so close they created wake in the water with 11 passes, a US official said on Wednesday, adding that the US ship was in international waters.
The planes carried no visible weaponry, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A Russian Ka-27 Helix anti- submarine helicopter on Tuesday also flew seven times around the destroyer, taking photographs as it passed.
The nearest Russian territory was about 70 nautical miles away in its enclave of Kaliningrad, which sits between Lithuania and Poland.
The US military on Wednesday released photos and videos of the incidents. In one photograph, an Su-24 appears to pass at extremely low altitude over the Donald Cook's bow.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "This incident... is entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international water and international airspace."
Ties between Russia and the West have plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War over Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and its support for separatist rebels in the east of the country.
Countering the US accusations, Russia said it was stunned by Washington's reaction to the fly-by incident.
Su-24 planes were conducting test flights in the area and "having observed the ship, turned away in observance of all safety measures", Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement yesterday.
"Frankly speaking, we don't understand such a sore reaction from our US colleagues," the statement added.
A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the manoeuvres of the Russian aircraft as "more aggressive than anything we've seen in some time".
The USS Donald Cook had just wrapped up a port visit in the Polish city of Gdynia on April 11 and proceeded out to sea with a Polish helicopter on board.
Exactly two years ago - on April 12, 2014 - a Russian Su-24 made numerous close-range, low-altitude passes near the USS Donald Cook while it was in the Black Sea in an incident the Pentagon at the time called a "provocative act."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE