A NATO F-16 decided to engage in aerial diplomacy with the Russian minister.
We have nearly lost count of the number of times a Russian military jet has “buzzed” a U.S. aircraft or Navy vessel — the most recent incident occurring Monday when a Russian fighter buzzed a U.S. reconnaissance jet — but now it appears the Russians have gotten a taste of their own medicine.
According to Reuters, a NATO F-16 made a close approach to a Russian plane carrying Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over the international waters of the Baltic Sea as he made his way toward the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast.
The NATO F-16 came alongside the Russian aircraft and lingered for a moment, that is, until a Russian Su-27 fighter jet escorting the minister flew into the gap between the two planes and tilted to the side to display its full array of air-to-air missiles under each wing, prompting the F-16 to begin easing away from the group of Russian jets.
Point made and counterpoint received. You can watch the incident — which was filmed by Russian media on board with the minister — unfold right here:
“As is standard practice whenever unknown aircraft approach NATO air space, NATO and national air forces took to the sky to monitor these flights,” a NATO official told Reuters. “When NATO aircraft intercept a plane they identify it visually, maintaining a safe distance at all times. Once complete, NATO jets break away.”
Of course, the Russian government called the incident “provocative” and insinuated that the pilot was an American, though the jet could have belonged to the military of any number of NATO member countries.
The BBC reported that a NATO official stated that the alliance “can confirm that three Russian aircraft, including two fighters, were tracked over the Baltic Sea earlier today (Wednesday).”
“As the aircraft did not identify themselves or respond to air traffic control, NATO fighter jets scrambled to identify them, according to standard procedures,” the official added. “NATO has no information as to who was on board. We assess the Russian pilots’ behavior as safe and professional.”
There were also reports that following the conclusion of Defense Minister Shoigu’s meeting with military brass in Kaliningrad, NATO jets tracked his plane as it returned to Russia, this time surrounded by a larger contingent of escort fighters, though the NATO jets kept their distance and there wasn’t another close encounter.
Russian jets have closely buzzed our planes and ships countless times, typically without redress, but this time they were given a dose of what they’ve been dishing out.
It remains to be seen how this particular instance of aerial diplomacy will effect the broader tense diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.S.
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