Russia acted “in accordance with international rules” when its unarmed fighter jets had two close encounters with the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday.
Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov spoke to Russian state news agency Tass.
Initial reports indicate two encounters with the U.S. Navy-guided missile destroyer occurred Tuesday night in international waters.
One of the Russian jets flew within 75 feet of the U.S. ship’s superstructure.
The Cook “encountered multiple, aggressive flight maneuvers by Russian aircraft that were performed within close proximity of the ship,” the U.S. European Command said in a statement.
“We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers,” the statement said.
The ship, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, had a Polish helicopter on board as part of routine training, according to a U.S. official, leading to speculation Russia was “sending a message to Poland.”
A U.S. official described the Russian maneuver as “strafing runs” without firing any weapons. The unarmed Russian aircraft swooped in over the deck in the same flight profile that would have been used if an attack were underway.
A second U.S. defense official told CNN that the overflights were conducted by a Russian SU-24 and helicopter. Flight operations by the Polish helicopter were interrupted because one of the overflights was so close.
The Cook had been shadowed by a Russian intelligence-gathering ship for some time before the aircraft encounter. The U.S. crew had radioed the Russian ship it was conducting routine operations, according to the official.
There are often encounters between U.S. ships and aircraft and their Russian counterparts, but there is minimal concern as long as they are conducted safely.
Close encounters between Russian military aircraft and U.S. warships have become increasingly common in recent months. In October, U.S. Navy jets intercepted two Russian Tu-142 aircraft flying near the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Pacific Ocean.
In June, a Russian Su-24 jet flew within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of a U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailing in the Black Sea near Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine.
The Russian aerial maneuvers come as tensions rise on NATO’s eastern flank.
In February, the U.S. Department of Defense announced it was spending $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative in an effort to deter Russian aggression against NATO allies following Moscow’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine.
In recent weeks, the United States has deployed additional military assets throughout Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
This month, the U.S. Air Force deployed F-15s to Iceland and the Netherlands and F-22s to the United Kingdom. And in February, Washington announced it would send six F-15s to Finland for a training exercise and pre-position tanks and artillery in Norway. Both countries share a border with Russia.