In a confrontation reminiscent of the Cold War-era flick “Top Gun,” a Russian fighter jet buzzed a U.S. Navy vessel deployed to the Black Sea over the weekend, raising further concerns of military escalation amid already high tensions between the former Soviet power and Western countries backing nearby Ukraine.
The Pentagon confirmed Monday that a Russian Sukhoi Su-24, known within NATO as a Fencer, made 12 passes of Navy destroyer the USS Donald Cook on Saturday evening. The jet came within 1,000 yards of the ship at an altitude of roughly 500 feet above sea level.
"This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with international protocols and previous agreements on the professional interaction between our militaries," Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters Monday, according to The Associated Press.
The Fencer did not appear to be armed and was not in danger of colliding with the Navy vessel, Warren said. The Donald Cook sent several queries and warnings using multiple radio frequencies but received no response from the aircraft.
A second aircraft passed over the ship at a much higher altitude but was not a concern, he said.
A Pentagon official told the AP a Russian navy frigate had also been tailing the Donald Cook, but did not come close enough to elicit concern.
Defense officials have previously highlighted the importance Donald Cook’s presence in the Black Sea for routine patrols.
“Russia’s actions in the Ukraine only reminds us of the importance of the transatlantic alliance," said Derek Chollet, the assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting last week. He referenced the Donald Cook's deployment as part of the American support of NATO's mission.
It replaces the USS Truxtun which left the area in March, and the USS Mount Whitney and USS Taylor which had deployed to the Black Sea during the Sochi Olympics in February.
The Pentagon said none of the ships’ presence was related to the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, where the Obama administration says Russian forces are actively trying to incite anti-government protests.
The Donald Cook, based out of Norfolk, Va., is capable of launching attack and transport helicopters and carries Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles, among other offensive armaments. It had been operating in international waters on Saturday, and is now docked in a Romanian port, the AP reports.
The incident with the Fencer came at a time of tense protests in Eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian forces have occupied government buildings. Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has asked the U.N. to send peacekeeping forces to bolster the Ukrainian special operations troops he says he will deploy.