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Friday, April 15, 2016, 09:20

Russian jets' flyby near US warship stirs Washington

By Agencies in Moscow and Washington
Russian jets' flyby near US warship stirs Washington
A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attac k aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, operating in the Baltic Sea April 12, 2016. (Handout / US NAVY 6TH FLEET / AFP)

Russian aircraft that flew within meters of a US warship in international waters of the Baltic Sea was observing all required safety measures, Russia's defense ministry said on Thursday, expressing surprise at the "sore reaction" from Washington.

Washington on Wednesday criticized the maneuver - which was dramatically caught on camera - with US military command slamming it as "unsafe and unprofessional".

Su-24 planes were conducting test flights in the area and "having observed the ship, turned away in observance of all safety measures", Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement posted on the ministry's Facebook page.

The nearest Russian territory was about 130 kilometers away in its enclave of Kaliningrad, which sits between Lithuania and Poland.

"Frankly speaking, we don't understand such a sore reaction from our US colleagues," the statement added.

"With the US Navy destroyer in operational proximity of the Russian navy's Baltic fleet base, the principle of its free sea navigation does not negate the principle of free air navigation of Russian planes," it said.

The US military's European command said one flyby - one of several - consisted of a "simulated attack profile" and came within nine meters of the US missile destroyer USS Donald Cook.

Russian jets' flyby near US warship stirs Washington

Two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft fly over the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, operating in the Baltic Sea April 12, 2016. (Handout / US NAVY 6TH FLEET / AFP)

"These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries and could result in a miscalculation," it said.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said:

"This is more aggressive than anything we've seen in some time."

Russia's Baltic fleet, including the navy's aircraft, this week is holding drills observed by the head of its Western military district commander, the military said on Wednesday.

Ties between Russia and the West have plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War over Moscow's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest criticized the overflights as "entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international waters and international airspace".

The maneuvers began on Monday while the destroyer was located near the Russian exclave in international waters.

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