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Russia, U.S. Differ On Ship Encounter In Mediterranean Sea

  • RFE/RL

A U.S. Navy picture shows a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft buzzing the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea on April 12.

A U.S. Navy picture shows a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft buzzing the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea on April 12.

Russia has complained that a U.S. naval ship passed too close to one of its ships in the Mediterranean Sea and released a video that Moscow says shows how dangerous the encounter was.

But Pentagon officials gave a different version of events and blamed the incident on the Russian warship, which they said carried out "unsafe and unprofessional" operations near two U.S. Navy ships.

In a June 28 statement, the Russian Defense Ministry accused the guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely of violating international maritime rules by coming within 70 meters of the naval frigate Yaroslav Mudry in international waters.

A video released by the ministry purportedly shows the U.S. destroyer drawing even with the Russian ship, then passing in front of it and steaming away. A sailor with binoculars can be seen briefly on the American ship.

The incident, which the ministry said occurred on June 17, "shows that it is U.S. sailors who allow themselves to forget basic principles of safe navigation and not to think about the eventual consequences of such dangerous maneuvering in regions with intense navigation," the statement said.

It was not immediately clear where in the Mediterranean the incident occurred, though at least one Russian news agency said it occurred after the Yaroslav Mudry had taken on fuel and supplies at a port in Malta.

U.S. defense officials gave a different version of events. They said the Russian frigate had "repeatedly crossed the stern of USS Gravely at close proximity" and had "repeatedly asked Gravely to maintain a safe distance, yet continued to maneuver in close proximity to Gravely."

The Russian ship came within some 315 meters of the Gravely and five nautical miles of the USS Harry S. Truman, the U.S. officials said.

"These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries and could result in a miscalculation or accident that results in serious injury or death," one official said.

The U.S. officials said that the Truman and Gravely were conducting routine operations in support of the campaign against the Islamic State militant group at the time of the incident.

U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the Pentagon is following up on the incident with Russia through military channels.

An unusually high number of U.S. and Russian naval ships have been operating in the Mediterranean Sea in recent months, mainly in connection with the ongoing conflict in Syria. For several days earlier this month, two U.S. carrier strike groups were also in the region at the same time.

There has been an increasing number of close encounters between Russian and U.S. military forces over the past year, with Russian jets buzzing U.S. naval ships in the Baltic Sea and Russian ships shadowing U.S. ships operating in the Black Sea. The two sides have accused one another of needlessly dangerous maneuvers.

One incident, which occurred in April and involved Russian Su-24 fighter jets coming within meters of the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea, prompted Secretary of State John Kerry to complain directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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