The repeated flights by the Sukhoi SU-24 warplanes, which also
flew near the ship a day earlier, were so close they created wake in
the water, with 11 passes, the official said on Wednesday. The
planes carried no visible weaponry, the official said.
A Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter also made seven passes around the
USS Donald Cook, taking pictures. The nearest Russian territory was
about 70 nautical miles away in its enclave of Kaliningrad, which
sits between Lithuania and Poland.
"They tried to raise them (the Russian aircraft) on the radio but
they did not answer," the official said, speaking on condition of
anonymity, adding the U.S. ship was in international waters.
The U.S. military on Wednesday released photos and videos of the
incidents. In one photograph, an SU-24 appears to pass at extremely
low altitude over the Donald Cook's bow.
The events were reminiscent of the Cold War, when a series of close
calls led to a bilateral agreement aimed at avoiding dangerous
interactions at sea that was signed in 1972 by then-Secretary of the
Navy John Warner and Soviet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov.
The agreement prohibited "simulated attacks against aircraft or
ships, performing aerobatics over ships, or dropping hazardous
objects near them." The accord can be seen here:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, "This incident ... is
entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries
operating in proximity to each other in international water and
The incident came as NATO plans its biggest build-up in eastern
Europe since the Cold War to counter what the alliance, and in
particular the three Baltic states and Poland, consider to be a more
The Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which joined both
NATO and the European Union in 2004, have asked NATO for a permanent
presence of battalion-sized deployments of allied troops in each of
their territories. A NATO battalion typically consists of 300 to 800
Moscow denies any intention to attack the Baltic states.
"We cannot treat this as anything else than provocation, yet another
example of aggressive intentions towards NATO, towards the United
States, towards Poland," Poland's Defense Minister Antoni
Macierewicz told private radio RMF.
The USS Donald Cook had just wrapped up a port visit in the Polish
city of Gdynia on April 11 and proceeded out to sea with a Polish
helicopter on board.
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The first incident took place on April 11, when two SU-24 jets flew
about 20 passes near the Donald Cook, coming within 1,000 yards
(meters) of the ship, at about 100 feet (30 meters) in altitude.
That was followed by even closer passes by the SU-24s the following
day and the passes by the Russian helicopter.
The U.S. defense official said the commanding officer of the Donald
Cook believed that Tuesday's incident was "unsafe and
The U.S. military's European Command said in a statement that "U.S.
officials are using existing diplomatic channels to address the
interactions, while the incidents are also being reviewed through
U.S. Navy channels."
"These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions
between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident
that could cause serious injury or death," it said.
U.S. Representative J. Randy Forbes, who chairs the House Armed
Services subcommittee on seapower, said in a statement that "U.S.
naval activity in Europe must be expanded accordingly to address the
threat posed by Russia's international behavior."
The U.S. Navy's video of the incidents can be seen here:
(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington and Wiktor
Szary in Warsaw; Editing by Warren Strobel and James Dalgleish)
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