“The aircraft commander, acting in a professional and safe manner, maneuvered the aircraft to avoid a possible encounter by Russian aircraft,” the United States European Command said in a statement.
Tensions between the West and Russia have grown over the conflict in Ukraine, and American and NATO officials have accused Russia of funneling arms to separatists in Ukraine and carrying out cross-border rocket and artillery attacks against Ukrainian government forces.
In recent months, the United States and other NATO nations have sought to reassure Eastern European allies by modestly increasing their military presence in and near their territory. This has included the deployment of 600 American troops on training missions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as a stepped-up allied effort to patrol the airspace over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The United States has also expanded its intelligence-gathering, including reconnaissance missions by RC-135 aircraft. The aircraft is used to monitor electronic communications, including radar signals, and the Air Force says it can detect and pinpoint transmissions “throughout the electromagnetic spectrum.”
According to the Swedish news media, the episode on July 18 occurred as the RC-135 aircraft was flying near Kaliningrad, a heavily militarized Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania that includes a major port for the Russian Baltic fleet.
After being approached by Russian aircraft, the RC-135 pilot sought to avoid the encounter by maneuvering his aircraft into Swedish airspace, flying over Gotland Island.
Sweden is not a member of NATO, and the European Command said in its statement that the RC-135 had been directed toward Swedish territory “incorrectly by U.S. personnel.”
The plane left Swedish airspace after Swedish air traffic controllers informed the aircraft of the mistake. The European Command statement said it would work with the Swedish government “to prevent similar issues before they arise.”
The episode follows other encounters between Russian aircraft and American warplanes or ships. On April 12, Russian SU-24 attack jets flew near a Navy vessel, the guided missile destroyer Donald Cook, which was operating in international waters in the Black Sea.
One of the Russian aircraft made 12 low-altitude passes near the ship, which had been sent to the Black Sea as part of the Obama administration’s attempt to reassure Eastern European allies. The Pentagon said the ship was never in danger, but criticized the Russian actions as provocative.
On April 23, a Russian aircraft flew close to an RC-135 that was flying over the Sea of Okhotsk, between Russia and Japan.
On Friday, President Obama spoke with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia about the situation in Ukraine. According to a statement issued by the White House, Mr. Obama repeated his concern about Russia’s increased support for the separatists in Ukraine.
Mr. Obama also repeated his concerns about Russian compliance with the 1987 treaty banning American and Russian missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles. The Obama administration recently concluded that Russia violated that accord by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile.
source: huffingtonpost.com By MICHAEL R. GORDON