A US RC-135U spy plane is being intercepted by a Russian SU-27 Flanker (in the background) over the Baltic Sea, June 19, 2017. (Photos by US European Command)
The US military has released dramatic photos showing what it calls a Russian fighter jet’s “unsafe” intercept of an American spy plane over the Baltic Sea.
The photos came out on Thursday, five days after the Pentagon announced that a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 aircraft had flown within only 1.5 meters (five feet) of a US Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft over the Baltic Sea.
A US official told CNN that the Russian jet was carrying weapons and flew “erratically,” noting that the maneuvers were specially unsafe because of the proximity.
"Due to the high rate of closure speed and poor control of the (Russian) aircraft during the intercept, this interaction was determined to be unsafe," said Meghan Henderson, a spokesperson for US European Command.
In the photos, the alleged Su-27 is flying so close to the wings of the spy plane that its pilot can be seen clearly in the cockpit.
Russia has rejected claims that its jet was at fault, saying it was rather one of the two US aircraft it was chasing away that approached it in a “provocative” manner.
"When being accompanied, the RC-135 plane made an attempt at approaching the Russian fighter jet making a provocative turn towards it," the Russian defense ministry said, adding that another RC-135 entered the scene after around 10 minutes.
According to a US official, American and Russian aircraft had been involved in more than 30 such interactions near the Baltic Sea since the beginning of June.
"The vast majority of interactions we have, intercepts that occur when we fly and that are intercepted by the Russians are safe. This is an exception, not the norm, but we were again operating in international airspace and did nothing to provoke," Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis claimed.
Two days after the Monday encounter, another Su-27 fighter jet intercepted a NATO F-16 fighter jet trying to approach an aircraft carrying Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over the Baltic Sea.
Similar close contacts have also taken place between Russian and American fighter jets, where the two countries are running separate airstrike campaigns against militant groups operating in Syria.

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