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Video: Russian fighter jets stalk US aircraft over Black Sea

Russian Su-30 fighter jets intercept a U.S. Air Force KC-135 and RC-135 over the Black Sea, June 26, 2020 (Russian Ministry of Defense, Released)
June 29, 2020

Russian fighter jets intercepted several U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy aircraft flying over the Black Sea on Friday.

The Russian Defense Ministry shared video showing two separate intercept flights against U.S. aircraft. Russian Su-30 fighter jets can be seen following behind a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane in one portion of the video. In another portion of the video, Russian fighters followed behind a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane as it refueled from a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the intercepts took place in international airspace over the Black Sea.

A translated statement accompanying the Russian video stated naval Su-30 fighters from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet were launched and used to escort the U.S. aircraft away from Russia’s borders.

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The Russian statement assessed U.S. aircraft remained “at a considerable distance from the state border of the Russian Federation.”

Russia maintains its aircraft strictly adhered to international law and that the U.S. aircraft immediately changed direction away from Russia’s borders after being intercepted.

Asked by Business Insider to comment on the intercept, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa said the command does not comment on safe intercepts. The comment appeared to implicitly confirm Russia’s assessment that the intercept was conducted in compliance with international laws.

Past Russian intercepts of U.S. aircraft have not always been as problem-free.

The U.S. Navy saw a pair of incidents in April in which Russian fighters flew within 25 feet of U.S. P-8As a transiting the Mediterranean Sea. The Navy deemed both incidents unsafe, and criticized the Russian pilots for flying so close that their engines caused wake turbulence for the U.S. aircraft. In one such incident, the Navy also criticized a Russian fighter of flying an inverted pass, raising the potential for a mid-air collision.

Another incident in April saw Russian fighters flying just below the wings of another P-8A as it passed over the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The Black Sea has been an area of particular interest in recent years, following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. There have been several interactions between U.S. aircraft and warships and their Russian counterparts around the Black Sea in recent years.

A day after Friday’s interaction between Russian and U.S. aircraft, U.S. fighter jets from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) intercepted a pair of Russian Tu-142 reconnaissance planes flying within 65 miles of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, inside the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

The incident also followed a pattern of recent interactions between U.S. and Russian aircraft near Alaskan airspace. NORAD has recorded ten missions to intercept Russian aircraft near Alaska since the start of 2020.