Some smart-ass Russian pilot decided to channel Tom Cruise in Top Gun and perform a barrel roll over a U.S. reconnaissance plane in international waters. The incident was the second such provocation against the American military in the last few days. On Thursday, Russian jets buzzed the USS Donald Cook destroyer, flying 30 feet above its deck.
The incident Thursday occurred when a Russian jet “performed erratic and aggressive maneuvers” as it flew within 50 feet of the U.S. aircraft’s wing tip, Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for U.S. European Command, said in a response to a question from CNN.
The Russian Su-27 began the barrel roll from the left side of the U.S. RC-135 and went over the top of it to end on the right side of the aircraft, European Command said.
The RC-135 aircraft was “intercepted by a Russian SU-27 in an unsafe and unprofessional manner,” Hernandez said, adding that the U.S. plane never entered Russian territory.
“The unsafe and unprofessional actions of a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries,” said Hernandez, who added the United States is protesting with the Russian government.
But Russia’s Defense Ministry said that reports on Thursday’s incident were “not consistent with reality” and that the Russian aircraft’s maneuvers had been “performed strictly in accordance with the international regulations on the use of airspace.”
Ministry spokesman Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the Su-27 had been dispatched after Russian air defense facilities spotted an unknown target over the Baltic Sea, approaching the Russian border at high speed.
It identified the jet as an American reconnaissance aircraft, and after visual contact, the U.S. plane “changed its course to the opposite direction, away from the Russian border,” he said.
No incidents were recorded over the encounter, he said.
You can’t dismiss the notion that this was just a case of hijinks by a lone Russian pilot. But neither can you rule out some kind of coordinated activity dreamed up in Moscow to humiliate the U.S.
The latter notion is plausible given where these incidents occurred. The U.S. has recently beefed up its military presence in the Baltic in response to some bellicose rhetoric from Putin directed against the Baltic states. It’s entirely possible that Russia is trying to undermine the credibility of the U.S. military in the eyes of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.
Both the flyover of the destroyer and the barrel roll over the reconnaissance plane are maneuvers that could easily lead to a deadly incident. It’s a dangerous game the Russians are playing and you have to wonder how long the Russians’ luck will hold.