REUTERS - Two Russian warplanes flew simulated attack passes near a U.S. guided missile destroyer in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday, the U.S. military said, with one official describing them as one of the most aggressive interactions in recent memory.
The repeated flights by the Sukhoi SU-24 warplanes, which also flew near the ship a day earlier, were so close they created wake in the water, with 11 passes, the official said on Wednesday. The planes carried no visible weaponry, the official said.
A Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter also made seven passes around the USS Donald Cook, taking pictures. The nearest Russian territory was about 70 nautical miles away in its enclave of Kaliningrad, which sits between Lithuania and Poland.
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"They tried to raise them (the Russian aircraft) on the radio but they did not answer," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding the U.S. ship was in international waters.
The U.S. military on Wednesday released photos and videos of the incidents. In one photograph, an SU-24 appears to pass at extremely low altitude over the Donald Cook's bow.
The events were reminiscent of the Cold War, when a series of close calls led to a bilateral agreement aimed at avoiding dangerous interactions at sea that was signed in 1972 by then-Secretary of the Navy John Warner and Soviet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov.
The agreement prohibited "simulated attacks against aircraft or ships, performing aerobatics over ships, or dropping hazardous objects near them." The accord can be seen here.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, "This incident ... is entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international water and international airspace."
The incident came as NATO plans its biggest build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War to counter what the alliance, and in particular the three Baltic states and Poland, consider to be a more aggressive Russia.