A NATO F-16 fighter approached and was then warned away from a jet carrying Russia’s defense minister, Russian media have reported, the latest in a string of aerial incidents that have marked rising tensions between the West and Russia.
The incident occurred over the Baltic Sea in northeast Europe, according to reporters traveling with the defense minister, Sergey Shoigu, in international airspace crowded with Russian and NATO jets testing one another’s nerve in close – sometimes dangerously – proximity.
There was no immediate comment from NATO, which has been conducted military exercises in Eastern Europe. The Russian reports did not indicate which nation was flying the NATO warplane.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon claimed an armed Russian Su-27 buzzed an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane, closing to a distance of five feet. U.S. officials told Fox News that the maneuver was “provocative.” Russian officials blamed the pilot of the spy plane.
But no incidents yet have involved high-ranking members of the Russian or U.S. armed forces on board.
On Wednesday, Shoigu’s jet was bound for the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, when it was approached by an F-16, the Russian reports said.
The NATO jet closed in and had begun flying parallel to Shoigu’s plane, video shot on board and released by the Ministry of Defense’s Zvezda news agency showed.
A Russian Su-27 fighter accompanying Shoigu’s plane then approached from behind and rocked its wings to show that it was armed. Then, the F-16 veered off.
On Sunday, a U.S. fighter jet downed a Syrian warplane for the first time in the Syrian conflict, which includes Russian military backing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In response, Russia then suspended a pact used to prevent crashes with the U.S.-led coalition in the skies over Syria and was threatening to target American jets.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Andrew Roth