Russian aircraft buzzed US Navy ship 3 times in a day

Photo: ABCNews.com

(ABC News)– Russia has secretly deployed a new cruise missile inside Russia, a move a U.S. official labels an apparent violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987.

The move is one of several incidents involving the Russian military and the United States that came to light on Tuesday. The Pentagon says Russian aircraft flew low and fast above an American destroyer in the Black Sea last week in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner and a Russian intelligence vessel has been detected heading north along the eastern coast of the United States.

Known by American officials as the SSC-8, the cruise missile has been in development for years and was most recently tested in 2014.

The Obama administration had hoped that Russia would not place the missile in operational status, a move that would violate the INF treaty that bans American and Russian intermediate-range missiles based on land.

But according to a U.S. official, Russia now has two battalions of the cruise missile, one located at a test location at Kapustin Yar, a Russian rocket launch and development site near Volgograd. The other was moved in December to another military location inside Russia.

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“The Russian Federation remains in violation of its INF Treaty obligations,” said Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, a Pentagon spokeswoman in a statement.

“As detailed most recently in the 2016 Compliance Report, the Russian Federation remains in violation of its INF Treaty obligations not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles,” said Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman in a statement.

“We have made very clear our concerns about Russia’s violation, the risks it poses to European and Asian security, and our strong interest in Russia returning to compliance with the Treaty,” said Toner. “The Administration is undertaking an extensive review of Russia’s ongoing INF Treaty violation in order to assess the potential security implications for the United States and its allies and partners.”

The missile’s deployment and operational status was first reported by The New York Times.

Meanwhile, it appears Russia has resumed unusually close interactions with American military vessels in international waters that the Pentagon has previously labeled “unsafe and unprofessional.”

On Feb. 10, the Navy destroyer USS Porter noted three “unsafe and unprofessional” encounters with Russian military aircraft while in the Black Sea. In each of the incidents Russian aircraft approached the destroyer at an unspecified “low altitude” and some were at “high speed”.

The Russian aircraft did not have their transponders on and did not respond when the destroyer’s crew hailed the planes on radio.

“Such incidents are concerning because they can result in accident or miscalculation,” said Lt. Colonel Michelle Baldanza, a Pentagon spokesman.

Russia’s Defense Ministry denied any incidents occurred on Feb. 10 between Russian aircraft and the USS Porter. “All flights of our aircraft are done and have been done in neutral waters of the Black Sea in accordance with the international rights and security demands” said Igor Konashenkov, a Defense ministry spokesman.

Last April Russian fighters repeatedly buzzed an American destroyer in the Baltic Sea, with one pass coming as close as 30 feet to the USS Donald Cook. That incident was one of several close encounters between the U.S. and Russian militaries in 2016, but officials have said recently that such encounters had become infrequent.

Related: Russian spy ship seen patrolling off Connecticut coast

At the time of the incident Baldanza said the destroyer was “conducting routine maritime operations in international waters in the Black Sea following the conclusion of Exercise Sea Shield.”

According to Baldanza the first encounter involved a Russian Ilyushin 38, a maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. The plane “flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner due to the unusually low altitude” above the USS Porter.

The second incident involved two SU-24 fighters and the third a different Su-24. A U.S. official said that on one pass one of the fighters flew 300 feet above the USS Porter.

Meanwhile American officials are not expressing concern about the presence of a Russian intelligence gathering ship headed northward along the East Coast. The White House deferred comment to the Defense Department on this issue.

According to a U.S. official, the Russian intelligence vessel Viktor Leonov was located 70 miles off the coast of Delaware yesterday in international waters heading in a northerly direction. American territorial waters extend 12 miles out to sea.

The official said the speculation is that the Russian ship is headed near the U.S. Navy’s submarine base at New London, Connecticut.

Russian military monitoring of U.S. sub bases used to happen frequently during the Cold War, but became infrequent after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In 2015, another Russian spy ship made its way south along the East Coast past the sub base at Kings Bay, Georgia, but was apparently mapping underwater communications cables off the Florida coast.

If the Leonov follows previous deployment patterns it will eventually head to south to Cuba.

The official says there is not much concern about the Leonov’s movements or its intelligence gathering capabilities.

The Russian ship was in the mid-Atlantic a month ago and made a port of call in Kingston, Jamaica in early February.

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