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An armed Russian jet flew within five feet of a U.S. Air Force plane Monday over the Baltic Sea, shortly after the Russian Defense Ministry criticized the United States for shooting down a Syrian jet.
The Russian SU-27 jet advanced toward the U.S. Air Force RC-135 recon plane “rapidly” and flew within five feet in what military officials told Fox News was a “provocative” and “unsafe” move. The Russian jet also was behaving “erratically.”
Although Russian and U.S. aircraft and ships have had about 35 encounters in the Baltic Sea since June 2 — according to the officials — the latest incident is the most dangerous yet and raises the chances for a deadly accident that could spark an international conflict.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry is threatening to attack American warplanes in Syria after a U.S. plane shot down a Syrian fighter on Sunday, The Washington Post reported. A statement from the ministry labeled the downing a “flagrant violation of international law.”
The ministry also said Russia may shoot down U.S. planes if needed.
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“All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets,” the statement read.
Others in Russia also criticized the U.S.
“Naked aggression and provocation,” Frants Klintsevich, a member of Russia’s parliament, wrote on Facebook. “Being provoked, first and foremost, [is] Russia.”
Klintsevich called it a “new level of danger.”
Russian rhetoric is escalating because a U.S. F-18 Super Hornet fighter shot down a Russian-made Syrian SU-22 fighter bomber. The SU-22 was attacking U.S.-backed rebels, known as the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) when the F-18 fired.
The Russians responded by shutting off a communication channel through which U.S. commanders shared information about air operations with their forces, The Post reported. Russian planes and drones are also carrying out attacks on Syrian rebels and ISIS.
The skies over Syria already were dangerous, with U.S. and Russian aircraft operating in the same areas. The problem is that the Russians and Americans are operating under different commands.
“The only actions that we have taken against pro-regime forces in Syria — and there have been two specific incidents — have been in self-defense,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., told reporters at the National Press Club. “And we’ve communicated that clearly.”
Dunford added, “We work very hard on deconfliction. We’ve spent the last eight months on deconfliction. It’s going to require some military and diplomatic efforts in the next hours to restore deconfliction.”
Not every observer thinks there is danger. Pavel Baev, an expert on the Russian military at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, thinks the Kremlin is bluffing. Yet he, too, believes there is danger.
“It is risky because there are some nervous fingers on many buttons,” Baev said.
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