Russia’s defence ministry has said a Russian Su-35 combat plane was scrambled over the Baltic Sea after two United States strategic bombers flew in the direction of the Russian border, but that the fighter jet returned to base after the US planes moved away from Russian territory.
The encounter on Monday follows last week’s diplomatic furore following the crash of a US surveillance drone into the Black Sea after it was intercepted by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets in what was the first known direct military contact between Russia and the US since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
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Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency said that the National Defence Control Centre of Russia’s Ministry of Defence identified the two US planes as B-52H strategic bombers.
“On March 20, 2023, the radars of the air defence forces of the Western Military District on duty detected two air targets flying in the direction of the state border of the Russian Federation over the Baltic Sea,” the ministry said, according to TASS.
The Su-35 fighter was scrambled to prevent “a violation of the state border” by the US aircraft, the ministry said, adding that the aircraft reached a “designated air patrol area”.
“After the foreign military aircraft moved away from the state border of the Russian Federation, the Russian plane returned to its home base,” the ministry said, adding that the Su-35 was strictly in line with international air law.
“No violation of the state border of the Russian Federation was permitted,” the ministry said.
⚡️@mod_russia: 🇷🇺 air defence radars detected 2 aerial targets flying in the direction of 🇷🇺 state border over the Baltic Sea.
❗️The targets were classified as 2 🇺🇸 Air Force B-52H strategic bombers.
A Su-35 fighter jet scrambled to prevent a violation of 🇷🇺 state border. pic.twitter.com/3u9IRFC5iK
— Russian Embassy in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) March 20, 2023
On Friday, Russia presented state awards to the two fighter pilots involved in the downing of the US MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone that crashed into the Black Sea last week.
Presenting the awards to the Su-27 jet fighter pilots, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu lauded their achievement in preventing the drone from flying into an area near Crimea, to which Moscow has banned access.
Russia has accused the US of collecting intelligence through surveillance flights that was then given to Ukraine to attack Russian targets. Moscow also accused the US of provoking the drone incident by ignoring flight restrictions imposed to protect Russian territory and said that Russia “will respond in kind” to all future provocations.
Appearing to prefer to de-escalate the downing of the multimillion-dollar drone, the US said it was not known if the Russian pilots had intentionally caused the drone to crash or that their risky manoeuvres around the spy aircraft were to blame.
The US also said it would continue to fly missions over the Black Sea in international airspace.
On Friday, the Reuters news agency reported that two US officials confirmed a surveillance flight had already taken place last week in the Black Sea region by an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone.