Russia Military Intercepts U.S. Spy Plane While Conducting Massive Pacific Drills in Asia

A Russian fighter jet has intercepted a U.S. spy plane over the Pacific Ocean as the Russian military conducted a massive set of drills in the region.

The Russian Defense Ministry reported Thursday that "an air target approaching the State border of the Russian Federation was detected by Russian airspace control over the Pacific Ocean," prompting Russia's Pacific Fleet to scramble a Su-35 fighter jet. The Russian warplane identified the target as a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane and was said to have escorted the incoming the foreign aircraft away.

The RC-135 then conducted a U-turn away from Russian airspace and "violations of the State border of the Russian Federation were not allowed," according to the statement. The Su-35, for its part, flew "in strict accordance with international rules for the use of airspace.

Contacted by Newsweek, U.S. Pacific Air Forces neither confirmed nor denied the incident.

"While we aren't going to comment on any specific aircraft intercept, the Pacific Air Forces has an enduring commitment to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific," the command said. "We will continue to fly in accordance with the laws and regulations governing the use of international airspace."

Such incidents are not uncommon between the two countries, both of which straddle the world's largest ocean and also operate in overlapping airspace in other strategic regions.

The latest incident comes as the Russian Defense Ministry announced that "an operational exercise of the heterogeneous forces of the Pacific Fleet is being conducted" in the central stretch of the ocean some 4,000 kilometers, or nearly 2,500 miles away, from the home bases of the vessels being deployed.

The exercises are set to include up to 20 surface warships, submarines and support vessels, such the Slava-class cruiser Varyag missile cruiser, the large anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Panteleev, the Udaloy-class frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov, the corvettes Gromky, Sovershenny and Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov andmissile range instrumentation ship Marshal Krylov.

Also in the skies were about 20 aircraft including long-range anti-submarine aircraft Tu-142MZ, high-altitude fighter-interceptors MiG-31BM and other aircraft.

"Within the framework of the exercise, the tasks of managing a heterogeneous grouping of forces at a considerable distance from the base points for the protection and defense of sea (ocean) communications," the statement said, "as well as organizing the interaction of the operational grouping of ships and aircraft to search and track submarines and ship groupings of the mock enemy are practiced."

US, RC-135, spy, plane, intercepted, by, Russia
A U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft is purportedly seen being escorted by a Russian Su-35 fighter jet over the Pacific Ocean on June 10. Such interactions between the U.S. and Russia have taken place across the globe, including other strategic areas over the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Seas. Russian Ministry of Defense

In one aerial maneuver, a Russian Il-38N anti-submarine aircraft conducted operations involving "search, classification and tracking of submarines of the mock enemy" in Avacha Bay.

"The anti-submarine warriors conducted training on the integrated use of radar and dropped hydroacoustic detection equipment with the placement of buoys, the reception and analysis of information obtained with their help," the Russian Ministry of Defense said. "In low cloud conditions, the crews practiced takeoff from the airfield, performed flights over the sea, instrument piloting, as well as go-around and landing at a shortened runway distance."

The focus on submarine-hunting emerges about a week after the U.S. Navy announced it was deploying about a third of its Pacific Submarine Force to participate in Exercise Agile Dagger 21.

Russia's Pacific drills also take place in the lead-up to the highly anticipated debut summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, set to take place next Wednesday in the Swiss capital of Geneva. Both men have sought to stabilize strained relations between their nations but remain critical of one another's policies.

"We're not seeking conflict with Russia. We want a stable predictable relationship," Biden told U.S. Air Force personnel stationed at Royal Air Force Mildenhall in the United Kingdom. "Our two nations share incredible responsibilities, and among them ensuring strategic stability and upholding arms control agreements. I take that responsibility seriously."

He then added a warning regarding what Washington has perceived as aggressive behavior by Moscow, including allegations of electoral interference and cyberattacks against the U.S. and its allies.

"But I've been clear: The United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way when the Russian government engages in harmful activities," Biden said. "We've already demonstrated that. I'm going to communicate that there are consequences for violating the sovereignty of democracies in the United States and Europe and elsewhere."

During a press conference in Washington the following day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki took note of Biden and Putin's extensive experience in dealing with one another, as Biden previously served as vice president and Putin has been in power as either president or prime minister for the past two decades.

Biden, Psaki said, "has never held back in voicing his concerns or issues where [Russia's] behavior is not aligned with democratic values, and he will certainly be straightforward in doing that in this meeting as well."

"But this is not about friendship. It's not about trust," she said. "It's about what's in the interest of the United States, and, in our view, that is moving toward a more stable and predictable relationship."

The Russian side is also looking to talk about tough topics such as arms control, cybersecurity and conflict areas like Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula, Libya and Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a virtual audience at the Primakov Readings forum that "there is an objective need for an exchange of views at the highest level on what threats Russia and the United States, as the two largest nuclear powers, see in the international arena."

"Clearly, normalization of Russian-U.S. relations, I'll stress this again, can only be possible if the principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other's internal affairs are observed," Lavrov said. "This is a prerequisite not only for maintaining a normal, predictable and steady dialogue (which the Americans claim they want), but it is also important for removing the accumulated issues of confrontation between our countries. We are ready for a candid conversation like this."

The top Russian diplomat tempered expectations, however, saying Moscow did not "entertain any illusions about potential 'breakthroughs'" from the first meeting between the two men since Biden took office in January.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova reiterated this message the following day.

"I think it's important to talk about the realities," Zakharova said. "Expectations can be different, but the realities are very important because our country analyzes reality as the level of our relations, the amount of issues, the red lines that have been drawn."

She emphasized the need for meaningful discussions between the two powers.

We have discussed all these issues during our contacts with our American colleagues for a long time, we are not hiding anything," Zakharova said. "So this is the most important thing, discussing realities and discussing real problems, and everything else is just a byproduct."

Joe, Biden, and, Vladimir, Putin, combo
This combination of pictures created shows then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden—now president—during a speech in Darby, Pennsylvania, on June 17, 2020 and Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering a speech at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on January 31, 2018. Biden is set to follow in the path of his predecessors in attempting an early reset in U.S.-Russia relations, but issues straining ties between the two powers have only multiplied in recent years. JIM WATSON/GRIGORY DUKOR/AFP/Getty Images

This article has been updated to include a statement from U.S. Pacific Air Forces.

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