The ongoing dance between Washington and Moscow added a few new steps this week as Russian bombers buzzed a U.S. aircraft carrier, prompting the Navy to scramble fighter jets in response.
The incident took place Tuesday when a pair of TU-142 Bear bombers -- a massive, propeller-driven aircraft introduced in the early 1970s – flew at an altitude of about 500 feet and roughly one mile from the USS Ronald Reagan as it was conducting a military exercise with South Korea in international waters in the Sea of Japan.
The bombers were first intercepted by Korean planes, and the U.S. military scrambled four F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets to escort the aircraft until they left the area, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
He said the situation didn’t prompt a “significant confrontation” because “we have regularly urged the Russian military to make sure that their operations in this space were consistent with generally accepted international protocols.”
A close encounter between U.S. and Russian military forces is reminiscent of the old-fashioned waltz during the Cold War when naval ships and reconnaissance flights would regularly come into contact with another. This week’s incident will be added to the litany of similar events that have taken place since Russian President Vladimir Putin started bulking up the Kremlin’s military muscle following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Russian planes have routinely skirted the airspace of other nations ever since, especially those of European countries.
“Russia has been increasingly assertive in recent years all over the place I’m afraid, some of it bordering on dangerous and unprofessional,” according Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon.
“It’s a global concern, and not just for the U.S. -- even the Swedes are finding Russian behavior more aggressive of late,” he added.
The Swedes aren’t alone.
Earlier this month NATO warned Russia to stay away from Turkey after the Turkish air force intercepted a Russian warplane taking part in Moscow’s air campaign in Syria after it strayed across the border. The notification apparently fell on deaf ears as not long after Turkish forces shot down a Russian drone, though the Kremlin denied ownership.
Tuesday was an eventful day in the Pacific. At about the same time as the Russian flyby, the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed inside the 12-nautical-mile territorial zone China has claimed around man-made islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing condemned the “freedom of navigation” operation, claiming it violated China’s “indisputable sovereignty.”