A day after Malaysian Airlines MH-17 was shot down on July 17 over east Ukraine (still to be determined by who thanks to epic amounts of fact-free propaganda) the new cold war between Russia and the US nearly heated up quite substantially, after a U.S. Air Force spy plane closely evaded an encounter with the Russian military on July 18 in what may potentially have escalated into a live fire tragedy that could have unleashed something far worse.
According to CNN, the U.S. plane had been flying in international airspace, conducting an electronic eavesdropping mission on the Russian military, when the Russians took the unusual action of beginning to track it with land-based radar. The Russians then sent at least one fighter jet into the sky to intercept the aircraft, the U.S. official said Saturday.
And while the US version of events is that the plane was flying in neutral territory, we are confident the Russian narrative will put the spyplane squarely into Russian airspace, explaining not only the radar track and the scrambling of the interceptor, but the rapid evasive action by the US airplane.
Russian and U.S. aircraft often encounter each other, both in Northern Europe as well as the area between the Russian Far East and Alaska. But the official said the land radar activity by the Russians in this instance was unusual. The spy plane crew felt so concerned about the radar tracking that it wanted to get out of the area as quickly as possible. As a result of taking the quickest route away from Russian airspace the crew entered Swedish airspace. The U.S. official acknowledged that was done without Swedish military approval. The RC-135 Rivet Joint fled into nearby Swedish airspace without that country's permission, a U.S. military official told CNN. The airplane may have gone through other countries' airspace as well, though it's not clear if it had permission to do so.
As a result of this incident, the United States is discussing the matter with Sweden and letting officials know there may be further occurrences where American jets have to divert so quickly they may not be able to wait for permission.
"We acknowledge a U.S. aircraft veered into Swedish airspace and will take active steps to ensure we have properly communicated with Swedish authorities in advance to prevent similar issues before they arise," the U.S. State Department said.
The incident was first reported by the Swedish news agency Svenska Dagbladet. Russian officials did not provide any immediate reaction about the encounter.
As a reminder, this is not the first recent close encounter between US and Russian air forces: recall that on April 23 a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter buzzed within 100 feet of the nose of a U.S. Air Force RC-135U reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Okhotsk between Russia and Japan, a Defense Department official said.
Needless to say, Russia is sending the US a clear message: your spy planes are not only no longer welcome here, but will be shot down if the incursions continue.
Which begs the logical follow up: what would happen if the US were to catch a Russian spyplane flying off the coast of California on a weekly basis?