The United States and Russia remain locked in a war of words over the Ukraine crisis. Even as the Russian Defense Ministry published a video claiming a section of its troops was pulled out of the Ukraine border, Washington was quick to dismiss it, insisting that the situation continues to remain volatile.
Amid tensions on the ground, the aircraft of these cold war adversaries came very close to each other on multiple occasions over the past few weeks.
Quoting Pentagon sources, The New York Times reported that US and Russian jets flying in the eastern Mediterranean Sea got perilously close to each other in three different incidents last weekend, including one in which the planes approached within five feet of each other.
Three Russian Su-35 jet fighters strayed into the flight path of three US P-8A surveillance planes during the weekend’s close calls in international airspace, according to officials.
While the Su-35 is the best heavy super-maneuverable aircraft in the Russian inventory, the Poseidon-8A is a US military aircraft responsible for Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (IRS) operations.
The Navy P-8A is a low-flying maritime patrol aircraft that is primarily used for observation. The Russian Su-35, on the other hand, is a three-times-faster jet fighter built to launch offensive missiles.
Two of the mid-air interactions were ruled risky, while the third was deemed unprofessional, according to Defense Department officials.
#BREAKING Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Mike Kafka confirms that over the course of last weekend, 3 #US Navy P-8A aircraft experienced unprofessional intercepts by #Russian aircraft while flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea. #BreakingNews #Usa #Russia
— International Leaks (@Internl_Leaks) February 17, 2022
“While no one was hurt, interactions such as these could result in miscalculations and mistakes that lead to more dangerous outcomes”, Navy Capt. Mike Kafka, a Pentagon spokesman told NYT.
However, this was not the only time and region where the two arch-rivals had a close encounter in the air.
US F-16 Fighters Escort Russian Planes
Further, in a completely unrelated incident, three Russian planes flew into coalition-restricted airspace in eastern Syria on February 15 which led to the US fighter jets and other coalition aircraft escorting them, reported CNN.
A Russian cargo plane and two Tu-22 Backfire bombers flew into the so-called Eastern Syria Security Area without providing enough advance notice to the US-led coalition. When the US advised the Russians that more advance warning was required, the Russians insisted they would go ahead, according to the American officials.
As a result, US F-16s and coalition planes flew alongside the Russians for a short time before they exited the area. Despite the fact that the incident was not considered dangerous, the Russians followed up six hours later when another cargo plane and a Russian military jet flew in the same region.
According to an American official, the Russians haven’t flown bombers across the area since May 2021.
US fighter jets and other coalition aircraft escorted three Russian aircraft in eastern Syria on Tuesday when the Russians flew into coalition-restricted airspace https://t.co/Kiyb6rir2V
— CNN International (@cnni) February 16, 2022
The security zone stretches from Deir ez-Zor in the south and east to the Iraqi border, requiring planes to notify the US of their movements. About 900 US troops are stationed in eastern Syria, supporting in the fight against ISIS.
The US-led International Coalition was established in 2014 to fight the Islamic State. Since 2015, the United States has provided material, financial, and logistical support to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and its armed branch, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
On the other hand, Russia, along with Iran and Hezbollah, is part of the coalition that supports Syria’s Assad government and its military. Russia entered the war, supporting the Syrian government in 2015 which led to the military making rapid gains in the country state earlier dominated by militants.
Due to their deep involvement in the Syrian War, both the US and Russia have some mutually agreed rules in place to avoid conflicts. One of them is the requirement to furnish a notice about a probable flight through the coalition air space of the United States, which apparently was violated.
Tensions Far From Over
Tensions have been running high between the United States and Russia as the build-up along the Ukrainian border still exceeds a million troops. While Russia has maintained that it does not want to invade Ukraine, Moscow has demanded security guarantees, including permanently barring Ukraine and Georgia from NATO.
Additionally, fresh evidence about a pontoon bridge from Belarus to Ukraine via the Chernobyl Exclusive Zone could further cast aspersions on the Russian intentions, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times. The United States has also accused Russia of stocking blood supplies, inching more troops closer to the Ukraine border and flying in more combat aircraft.
Highlights from @SecDef presser at @NATO:
Russia continues to add to the >150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders
Russia is increasing its capabilities by adding more aircraft & stocking up on blood supplies
A US Stryker company will move from Germany to Bulgaria in the coming days
— Elizabeth Campbell (@ECampbell360) February 17, 2022
Russian Su-27 fighter jets on Thursday escorted 5 US and French military aircraft over the Black Sea, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
French Dassault Rafale & Mirage-2000 tactical aircraft refueling from Airbus A330 MRTT can be seen in the video. pic.twitter.com/Pbul75ybYn
— Status-6 (@Archer83Able) December 9, 2021
The trust deficit between Russia and the United States and the reluctance of the latter to agree to the security demands of Moscow in the previous round of talks have led to their relations hitting a rock bottom. It is yet to be seen if NATO heads of states are able to come up with something fruitful to calm tempers.