Russian MiG-31 Fighter Jet Escorts U.S. Aircraft after Ukraine Border Retreat

A Russian MiG-31 fighter jet was scrambled to escort a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the Pacific Ocean, in the latest tit-for-tat maneuver between the countries.

The incident follows Russia's announcement that it would withdraw troops from the Ukrainian border after a military buildup that had raised concerns among the international community.

Russian agencies reported that Russian airspace control detected the American aircraft over neutral waters.

"To identify the air target and prevent violation of the state border of the Russian Federation, a MiG-31 fighter from the air defense forces of the eastern military district was deployed," a statement by Russia's eastern military district said, according to Tass.

"The crew of the Russian fighter identified the air target as a strategic reconnaissance aircraft RC-135 of the US Air Force and escorted it over the Pacific Ocean," the statement added.

The Russian fighter MiG-31 crew of the duty air defence of the Eastern Military District escorted the stratigic reconnaissance aircraft RC-135 USAF above the Pacific Ocean waters. More details:

— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) April 23, 2021

"After the foreign military aircraft turned away from the state border, the Russian fighter safely returned to the base airfield."

Using the typical wording for such statements, it added that "no violations of Russia's state border were allowed," and that the Russian fighter jet's flight had been performed "in full compliance with international rules for the use of airspace."

Russia's defense ministry tweeted footage which it said showed the Russian fighter escorting the aircraft in the incident.

The ministry shared footage of a similar incident last week when a MiG-31 fighter escorted the same kind of American reconnaissance aircraft along the south-eastern coast of Kamchatka in the country's far-east.

NATO has reported a spike in intercepts of Russian aircraft amid heightened tensions and distrust between Moscow, the U.S., other alliance members. This week, NATO scrambled F-16 jets to track two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack bombers, which were being escorted by Su-27 and Su-35 fighter aircraft over the Baltic Sea.

Earlier this month, Moscow said it scrambled a MiG-31 to escort a Norwegian air force Falcon 20 reconnaissance aircraft over the Barents Sea.

Moscow has long complained about NATO activity near its border and has warned it could lead to an escalation. The increase in intercepts and escorts by alliance, U.S. and Russian aircraft comes amid a spike in tensions following build-up of Russia's troops by its border with Ukraine.

On Friday, Russia said that it had started the withdrawal of its troops from the Ukrainian border. It followed the announcement by Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu that Russian troops "have shown their capability to defend the country."

However, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said that the withdrawal "would not put an end neither to the current escalation, nor to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in general."

Russia's MiG-31 jets
Russia's MiG-31 supersonic interceptor jets fly over Moscow on May 9, 2018 in this illustrative image. A MiG-31 escorted a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the Pacific Ocean on April 23 2021, agencies reported. Yuri KADOBNOV/Getty Images

This story has been updated.