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US says Russian intercept of B-52 bomber over Black Sea was ‘unsafe and unprofessional’

The United States military on Saturday accused Russian fighter pilots of conducting an ‘unsafe and unprofessional’ intercept of a nuclear-capable B-52 bomber that was conducting ‘routine operations’ over the Black Sea on Friday morning.

According to a statement from the Air Force, two Russian Su-27 jets crossed to within 100ft of the nose of the B-52 multiple times as the US bomber flew over international airspace.

The US military said the Russian pilots’ shift to afterburner mode caused turbulence for the American aircraft, limiting the pilot’s ability to maneuver.

In modern aviation, when pilots activate afterburners, it injects fuel directly into the exhaust stream of a turbine engine, increasing the thrust so that the aircraft can accelerate.

‘Actions like these increase the potential for midair collisions, are unnecessary, and inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules,’ said General Jeff Harrigian of US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander.

‘While the Russian aircraft were operating in international airspace, they jeopardized the safety of flight of the aircraft involved.

‘We expect them to operate within international standards set to ensure safety and prevent accidents.’

The Russian government did not share the American assessment of the incident.

The Defense Ministry in Moscow said in a statement that the American B-52 was ‘approaching the state border of the Russian Federation.’

‘To identify the air target and prevent violation of the state border of Russia, two Su-27 fighters were raised into the air,’ according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

‘After the foreign military plane turned away from the state border, the Russian fighter safely returned to the home airfield.

‘The entire flight of Russian Su-27 fighters took place strictly in accordance with international rules for the use of airspace.

‘The American aircraft was not allowed to violate the state border of the Russian Federation.’

Russian and American planes frequently intercept each other over in international airspace that borders sensitive areas with geopolitical significance.

The incident is the latest indicator of increased military tensions between the two Cold War-era foes.

The Russian military on Thursday blamed US troops for a collision of Russian and US military vehicles in Syria’s northeast.

US officials said Wednesday that a Russian vehicle sideswiped a light-armored US military vehicle, injuring four Americans, while two Russian helicopters flew overhead, one as close as 70 feet from the US vehicle. 

On Friday, the US military flew B-52 bombers over all 30 NATO member countries in what is perceived by observers as a show of force meant to dispel doubts about Washington’s commitment to the alliance.

‘Six US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers will fly over all 30 NATO nations in Europe and North America on August 28,’ US European Command said in a statement Friday.

Meanwhile, the Russian navy conducted major war games near Alaska involving dozens of ships and aircraft, the military said on Friday, the biggest such drills in the area since Soviet times. 

Russia’s navy chief, Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov, said that more than 50 warships and about 40 aircraft were taking part in the exercise in the Bering Sea, which involved multiple practice missile launches.

‘We are holding such massive drills there for the first time ever,’ Yevmenov said in a statement released by the Russian Defense Ministry.

As part of the exercises, the Russian nuclear submarine Omsk surfaced near Alaska on Thursday, U.S. military officials said.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command are closely monitoring the submarine, Northern Command spokesman Bill Lewis said.

‘We have not received any requests for assistance from the Russian Navy or other mariners in the area,’ Lewis said from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. ‘We always stand ready to assist those in distress.’

Lewis declined to provide further details about the submarine, including its proximity to Alaska. He only said it was operating in international waters near Alaska.

‘We closely track vessels of interest, including foreign military naval vessels, in our area of responsibility,’ Lewis said.

The Russian military exercise is taking place in international waters, well outside the US territorial sea, he said.

The presence of Russian military assets in the war games caused a stir for U.S. commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea on Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

‘We were notified by multiple fishing vessels that were operating out the Bering Sea that they had come across these vessels and were concerned. So they contacted us,’ Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said earlier Thursday.

The Coast Guard contacted the Alaskan Command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which confirmed the ships were there as part of a pre-planned Russian military exercise that was known to some U.S. military officials, Wadlow said.

Wadlow did not have information about the scope of the exercise or how many Russian vessels were involved, referring those questions to the Alaskan Command.

Officials at the Anchorage base referred questions to Air Force officials at the U.S. Northern Command.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the exercises began or if they had finished.

Yevmenov emphasized that the war games are part of Russia´s efforts to boost its presence in the Arctic region and protect its resources.

‘We are building up our forces to ensure the economic development of the region,’ he said. ‘We are getting used to the Arctic spaces.’

The Russian military has rebuilt and expanded numerous facilities across the polar region in recent years, revamping runways and deploying additional air defense assets.

Russia has prioritized boosting its military presence in the Arctic region, which is believed to hold up to one-quarter of the Earth´s undiscovered oil and gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at $30 trillion.

Russia’s Pacific Fleet, whose assets were taking part in the maneuvers, said the Omsk nuclear submarine and the Varyag missile cruiser launched cruise missiles at a practice target in the Bering Sea as part of the exercise.

The maneuvers also saw Onyx cruise missiles being fired at a practice target in the Gulf of Anadyr from the coast of the Chukchi Peninsula, it added.

Russian state RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russia’s Pacific Fleet sources as saying that the surfacing of the Omsk nuclear submarine was routine.

Also late Thursday, NORAD sent F-22 fighter jets to intercept three groups of two Tu-142 Russian maritime patrol aircraft that came close to Alaska.

The Russian aircraft remained in the area for about five hours and came within 50 nautical miles of Alaska. Officials said the Russian jets remained in international air space, and at no time entered United States or Canadian sovereign air space.

‘Our northern approaches have had an increase in foreign military activity as our competitors continue to expand their military presence and probe our defenses,’ Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of NORAD, said in a statement. ‘

This year, we´ve conducted more than a dozen intercepts, the most in recent years. The importance of our continued efforts to project air defense operations in and through the north has never been more apparent.’

It cited former Russian navy’s chief of staff, retired Adm. Viktor Kravchenko, as saying that by having the submarine surface in the area the navy may have wanted to send a deliberate signal.

‘It’s a signal that we aren’t asleep and we are wherever we want,’ RIA Novosti quoted Kravchenko as saying.

The presence of Russian military assets in the area caused a stir for U.S. commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea on Wednesday.

‘We were notified by multiple fishing vessels that were operating out the Bering Sea that they had come across these vessels and were concerned,’ U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said Thursday.

The Coast Guard contacted the Alaskan Command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which confirmed the ships were there as part of a pre-planned Russian military exercise that was known to some U.S. military officials, he said.

The Russian military has expanded the number and the scope of its war games in recent years as Russia-West relations have sunk to their lowest level since the Cold War after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and other crises.  

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