Russian planes buzzed a United States warship in the Black Sea as it was conducting NATO exercises, American officials said. Russian officials denied that they had done anything aggressive but still criticized the presence of U.S. ships in the sea, indicating that U.S.-Russia military tension is continuing even under the U.S.'s new, ostensibly Russia-friendly, leadership.
The incident took place on February 10, the last day of Romania-led naval exercises in the Black Sea. Four separate Russian planes made low passes over the USS Porter, which was participating in the exercise. The ship's commander described the actions as "unsafe and unprofessional," a U.S. military spokesman said.
Russia denied the charges. "All of our flights were conducted and are being conducted over the neutral waters of the Black Sea in accordance with international rules and safety requirements,” Major General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
But Konashenkov dropped a little shade on the U.S., as well. “If the U.S. destroyer, as the Pentagon official claims, conducted a 'regular' patrol mission in the vicinity of Russia, tens of thousands miles away from their own shores, it is strange to be surprised about the no less regular flights of our aircraft over the Black Sea,” he said.
This is, to put it mildly, a volatile time in the U.S.-Russia relationship. The U.S. national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned abruptly after it emerged that he had been lying about his contacts with Russian officials. And the White House and Russian Foreign Ministry sparred over the status of Crimea, as there are increasing signs that Moscow is losing the faith that it had that the Trump administration would bring about a real reset with Russia.
How all this may affect the situation in the Black Sea is unclear, but NATO is having a defense ministerial meeting this week, the first with new U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, and the alliance is discussing expanding its presence in the sea.
Meanwhile, the USS Porter exited the Black Sea on February 13. "The Porter crew thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Black Sea," said the ship's commanding officer, Commander Andria Slough.