U.S. jets were engaged by Russian planes over international waters, the U.S. 6th Fleet has confirmed – adding to fears about mounting tension between Moscow and Washington, as Russia’s Defense Ministry complained about ‘aggressive U.S. military’ action.
The 6th Fleet called the interactions with the Russian jets ‘safe and professional,’ according to Military.com.
But the incident provides further cause for concern in European capitals and in DC, as relations between Moscow and the world sink further – driven by Russia’s troop movements near Ukraine, and threats by their ally Belarus to shut of natural gas supplies flowing from Russia through Belarus.
Vladimir Putin, the only friend of Belarus’s dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko, rapped Lukashenko over the knuckles for his threat, insisting that Russia would not allow the gas tap to be turned off.
Vladimir Putin, seen on Friday at an Artificial Intelligence conference in Moscow, is presiding over a period of heightened tension with the West
President Joe Biden and U.S. officials are increasingly alarmed at Russia’s maneuvers in Eastern Europe
Fears are growing of an imminent conflict in eastern Europe as Russia and Belarus carry out snap military drills close to where a migrant crisis is playing out on Poland’s border, while Washington warns Putin is preparing to invade eastern Ukraine
Amid the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Belarus is pressuring Europe over migrants and has threatened to cut off gas supplies to the continent by shutting the Yamal-Europe pipeline which runs through its territory (pictured)
Poland has deployed some 15,000 troops to its eastern border where they have spent much of this week trying to hold back thousands of migrants that Lukashenko’s regime is accused of forcing into the region
Poland, along with the leaders of nearby Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, has been warning that the crisis has the potential to spill over into a full-blown conflict
Poland has reported dozens of attempts to cross the border today, including a group of migrants who broke through the Belarusian side of the crossing and began trying to cross the Polish side of the fence
However, Putin has not addressed claims that Lukashenko is deliberately ferrying migrants from the Middle East and North Africa to the European Union – a move which has infuriated the EU, and seen troops from Britain and other countries move into the region.
President Joe Biden issued his own expression of concern as he left the White House for Camp David on Friday.
‘It’s of great concern. We’ve communicated our concern to Russia. We’ve communicated our concern to Belarus. We think it’s a problem,’ he said in response to a shouted question from a reporter about the migrant situation.
On Friday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly met their Russian counterparts in Paris, in a bid to calm tensions.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and Sergei Shoygu, head of the Ministry of Defense, were in Paris, amid mounting concern at Russia’s activities in Eastern Europe.
‘The two [French] ministers shared their concerns about the deterioration of the security situation in Ukraine and clearly warned of serious consequences related to any new harm to Ukraine’s territorial integrity,’ the joint statement from the French foreign and defense ministries said.
Yet Shoygu’s ministry on the same day condemned the U.S. and NATO for their own actions in the region.
‘We view the US aggressive military activity in the Black Sea region as a threat to regional security and strategic stability,’ said a statement from the Defense Ministry.
A U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft, like the one pictured, took off from Crete and spotted by Russian radar
A U-2 Dragon Lady (pictured) was also one of the five American planes that the Russian radars spotted
Three P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, like the one pictured, took off from Sicily and were picked up over international waters by Russian radar
USS Porter of US Navy passes through the Dardanelles Strait in Canakkale, Turkey in 2019. The ship is currently in the Black Sea
The USS Mount Whitney is seen sailing towards the Black Sea on November 4
Washington’s warning comes as Putin masses his forces close to Ukrainian territory, with satellite images taken in the last few weeks showing large camps of tanks and artillery pieces in the region
Ukraine warns there are now some 90,000 Russian soldiers near its border, where it has been fighting a years-long insurgency in its eastern regions by Russian-backed separatists
Russia and Belarus said paratroopers from both countries had been involved in joint drills in Gozhsky today, located just 20 miles from the Polish border where migrants are trying to cross
The Belarusian defense ministry said the troops practiced capturing bridges, hunting down and destroying targets, and defeating enemy patrols during the drill to ‘test combat readiness’
The NATO countries that are holding unscheduled drills in the Black Sea have intensified air reconnaissance near the Russian borders, the ministry said.
‘The true goal of the US actions unprovoked by Russia are to study the theater of military operations in case of the use-of-force scenario in the southeast.
‘The intensity of NATO air reconnaissance near the borders of the Russian Federation in the Black Sea continues growing,’ the statement says.
Moscow said that their radars spotted and tracked six NATO reconnaissance planes over the Black Sea in the past 24 hours.
The radars picked up five U.S. planes and one French.
They reported spotting three U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol planes, which had taken off from the U.S. airbase on Sicily; a U.S. Air Force RC-135 strategic reconnaissance plane from the airbase on Crete; and a U.S. Air Force U-2S strategic reconnaissance aircraft from their Cyprus airbase.
The French Air Force plane was a C-160G Gabriel reconnaissance aircraft, which had taken off from the airbase in Romania.
The Russians also noted seeing the US Navy guided missile destroyer Porter, the command ship Mount Whitney and the tanker John Lenthall.
The flotilla is currently deployed in the southwestern part of the Black Sea, after completing their transit from the Georgian port of Batumi and continue moving westward, the ministry said.
‘The Black Sea Fleet’s ships: the missile cruiser Moskva, the frigate Admiral Essen and the patrol vessel Pavel Derzhavin are closely watching the US warships in the Black Sea,’ Russia’s Defense Ministry said.