U.S. Navy Flight Intercepted by Russian Aircraft in Eastern Med as Powers Jostle for Libya

A U.S. Navy P-8A Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft in the U.S. 6th Fleet was intercepted on Tuesday by two Russian Su-35 Aircraft over international waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, as the two global powers jostle over Libya.

The interception continued for a period of 65 minutes where the Russian pilots took a close station on each wing of the U.S. Navy P-8A, restricting the aircrafts ability to safely maneuver, the Navy said.

The interception came as Russia is also using their aircraft to support activity in Libya, deploying fighter jets to support Moscow’s private military contractors against the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli.

“Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya. Just like I saw them doing in Syria, they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command. “For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now.”

The jets departed from Russia via Syria and were repainted to camouflage their Russian origins.

Russia isn’t interested in what is best for the people in Libya, Gen. Townsend said. They are working to achieve their own strategic goals in the area.

In April, there were two other unsafe interactions with Russian aircraft over the same waters. During all of these interactions in international airspace, the U.S. aircraft were flying consistently within international law, adhering to safety of flight operations and did not provoke the activity of the Russians.

The Navy said actions taken by the Russian Su-35 pilots were unnecessary, jeopardizing the safety of flight for the crew and aircraft. Their behavior was inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules and safe actions like these increase the potential for midair collisions.

When operating in international air space there is an expectation that pilots will fly safely and prevent accidents. This includes flying under the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA).

The U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.

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