A Russian aircraft intercepted a US aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea three times in just under three hours Tuesday, according to the US 6th Fleet.
“On June 4, 2019, a U.S. P-8A Poseidon aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-35 three times over the course of 175 minutes,” the 6th Fleet said in a statement Tuesday.
The second of the three interactions “was determined to be unsafe” due to the Russian aircraft “conducting a high speed pass directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk,” it said.
The American aircraft was maintaining international standards and “did not provoke this Russian activity,” the statement continued.
“While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible. We expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents,” the 6th Fleet wrote, adding that “unsafe actions increase the risk of miscalculation and potential for midair collisions.”
The Russian aircraft was armed and passed about 150 feet directly in front of the US plane according to two US officials.
The Russian military on Wednesday disputed the US Navy’s characterization of the intercept as unsafe.
“All flights of Russian aircraft were carried out in accordance with the international rules for the use of airspace,” the Russian Ministry of Defense told reporters Wednesday. “There were no questions or complaints from the American center of flight deconfliction line in Syria to the Russian command.”
This latest intercept comes amid tensions with Russia on a wide range of geopolitical issues and weeks after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Russian Vladimir Putin in the resort town of Sochi where he warned Russia about interfering in US elections, taking a tougher public line than President Donald Trump on the issue.
The interaction also just weeks after another brush with Russian aircraft.
Last month, US F-22 stealth jets intercepted four Russian bombers and two Russian SU-35 fighter jets in international airspace off the coast of Alaska.
The Russian nuclear capable long-range bombers flew into the Air Defense Identification Zone, which extends approximately 200 miles off Alaska’s western coast.
The Russian bomber flights are seen by US military officials as part of Moscow’s effort to train its military for a potential crisis while sending a message of strength to adversaries.
US officials say Russian bombers and jets have flown in the area several times a year for the last few years and have similarly been intercepted by US or Canadian jets operating as part of NORAD.
“NORAD’s top priority is defending Canada and the United States. Our ability to deter and defeat threats to our citizens, vital infrastructure, and national institutions starts with successfully detecting, tracking, and positively identifying aircraft of interest approaching U.S. and Canadian airspace,” Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the commander of NORAD, said in a statement last month.
“Patrols by Russian military aircraft off the coasts of the United States and Canada have grown increasingly complex in recent years,” O’Shaughnessy said in written testimony submitted to Congress earlier last month.
CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.