U.S. Navy Reports "Unprofessional" Run-In With Russian Jets
The U.S. Navy says that Russian planes made dangerously close approaches to three of its maritime patrol planes over the Mediterranean Sea last weekend, marking a renewal of a long-time pattern of "unprofessional" run-ins between Russian jets and American military aircraft.
“We can confirm that over the course of last weekend, three U.S. Navy P-8A aircraft experienced unprofessional intercepts by Russian aircraft,” said a Navy spokesman in a statement Wednesday. “The U.S. flight crews were flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea at the time of these intercepts. We have made our concerns known to Russian officials through diplomatic channels."
The Navy noted that close-quarters run-ins can result in miscalculations and mistakes, potentially resulting in dangerous outcomes and accidents.
U.S. officials told CNN that the run-in with Russian jets was "extremely close" and qualified as "unsafe and unprofessional." At least one of the encounters involved Su-35 fighters, the latest generation of Russia's Su-27 air superiority fighter platform.
Tensions between the U.S. and Russia are at a decadal high as the Kremlin assembles a massive force along the borders of Ukraine. Though Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged this week to begin drawing down forces, and several Russan ground units have repositioned, U.S. officials assess that Russia has added another 7,000 troops to the buildup. An estimated 150,000 personnel - about 60 percent of Russia's ground forces - were already present at the beginning of the week, making the combined force the largest grouping of Russian military assets since the end of the Cold War.
Sanctions and trade impact
The White House has promised that the impending invasion will bring stiff costs for Russia, including damaging sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline. The move is an about-face: in order to prioritize the U.S. diplomatic relationship with Germany, which strongly favors the pipeline, the Biden administration did not take action to halt Nord Stream 2's construction - despite a congressional mandate to sanction its development. If activated, the pipeline would allow Russia to circumvent the Ukrainian gas network and deliver Russian natural gas directly to customers in Germany. Though the line is now fully built, President Joe Biden has promised that it "will not happen" if Russia invades Ukraine.
Russia has alternative plans in case of sanctions on its energy exports, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said at a press conference Wednesday. Moscow has built up its foreign reserves to unusually high levels, giving it a $630 billion cash cushion, and it is prepared to re-route its energy exports to other countries if required, he said.
China has a strong energy trading relationship with Russia and is widely seen as the most viable alternative. At the Beijing Olypics, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a "growing energy partnership" with Russia, to include a new natural gas pipeline to deliver 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Chinese buyers. While significant, this volume represents just one-twentieth of the quantity of gas that Russia sells to Europe each year, and analysts suggest that it could take years to build the infrastructure to transition Russia's energy trade to China if Moscow chooses to take that course of action.