MOSCOW: Russia scrambled two Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets to escort a pair of US B-1B strategic bombers over the Black Sea, Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday, an incident that coincided with a visit to the region by the US secretary of defence.
The supersonic US Cold war-era planes were originally designed to carry nuclear bombs and missiles but now carry conventional payloads.
“Russian fighter crews identified the aerial targets as two US Air Force supersonic strategic B-1B bombers, accompanied by two KC-135 refuelling planes, and escorted them over the waters of the Black Sea,” the defence ministry said in a statement accompanied by video footage of the US aircraft in flight.
“After the foreign warplanes had been turned away from Russia’s state border, the Russian fighters safely returned to their home air base.” It said the Russian aircraft had carried out their flight in strict compliance with international airspace rules and that Russia’s borders had not been breached.
Visiting Ukraine on Tuesday, Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, said that Russia was an obstacle to peace in eastern Ukraine and called on Moscow to end destabilising activities in the Black Sea and along Ukraine’s borders.
Moscow blames Kyiv for a lack of progress in implementing a peace deal covering eastern Ukraine, something Ukraine denies.
A similar incident with a B-1B occurred on Sunday over the Sea of Japan, just days after an incident with a US naval destroyer, also in the far east.
B-1B bombers are being used in a series of exercises with NATO allies across Europe encompassing the Arctic, the Baltics and the Black Sea, Air Force Magazine reported earlier this month.
On Friday Russia’s Ministry of Defense had released video of a close encounter between Russian and US warships in the Sea of Japan, alleging that the Russian ship drove the US destroyer away after it attempted to enter Russian territorial waters.
The US Navy disputed that version of events on Friday evening, saying that Chafee was in international waters and the interaction was safe and professional.
The video shows the US Navy destroyer USS Chafee sailing in the Sea of Japan just a few hundred feet from the Russian destroyer Admiral Tributs. Chafee was sailing with a helicopter on its aft landing pad with its rotors running.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense said that around 5 p.m. local time on Friday the US ship “approached the territorial waters of the Russian Federation and attempted to cross the national border,” at which point Admiral Tributs “warned” Chafee “about the inadmissibility of such actions” and notified it that the area was closed to navigation because of artillery fire taking place during a Russian-Chinese naval exercise this week.
Meanwhile, NATO welcomes the strategic talk between the United States and Russia, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.
“I also welcome the strategic talk between USA and Russia and the efforts of the USA to really engage in meaningful strategic talk with Russia,” Stoltenberg told a press conference.