WASHINGTON – Russian attack planes buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea multiple times on Monday and Tuesday, at one point coming so close – an estimated 30 feet (9 metres) – that they created wakes in the water around the ship, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
The official, who was not authorized to discuss details and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Russian Su-24 planes appeared unarmed but on Tuesday flew what the commander of the USS Donald Cook deemed to be a simulated attack profile. The Cook’s commander judged the actions unsafe and unprofessional, the official said, but the ship took no action.
It was unclear when or if the U.S. government would formally protest the Russian actions, which come at a time of tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its military intervention in eastern Ukraine and fears among former Soviet states in eastern Europe that Russian aggression could threaten their independence.
On Monday, a pair of Russian Su-24 planes made 20 close passes over the Cook, coming as close as 1,000 yards at an altitude of about 100 feet, the official said. A Polish helicopter aboard the Cook was scheduled to conduct flight operations but those maneuvers were cancelled because of the Russian actions, the official said.
On Tuesday, a Russian KA-26 submarine-hunting helicopter circled the Cook seven times, taking photographs, the official said. Later that day, another pair of Su-24 attack planes, apparently unarmed, buzzed the Cook 11 times. At one point, at least one of the planes came within 30 feet of the ship in what the U.S. official said was a highly unusual maneuver.
On both days, the crew of the Cook attempted to contact the Russian aircraft by radio but received no response, the official said.
The U.S. believes the Russian actions may have violated of a 1970s agreement meant to prevent unsafe incidents at sea. The agreement was between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union but remains in force with Russia, the official said.
The officials said the Cook was operating in international waters 70 nautical miles off the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. It had departed the Polish port of Gdynia on Monday.