A Russian fighter jet nearly shot down a British surveillance plane last year, according to what is alleged to be a leaked U.S. military document circulating online.
The incident is suggested to be more significant than was previously disclosed as it could have drawn the United States and its NATO allies directly into the Russian war on Ukraine, Washington Post reports.
The near miss occurred on September 29 off the coast of Russia-occupied Crimea, the report reads.
The document, one of dozens in a trove of leaked classified Pentagon documents that has triggered a Justice Department investigation, refers to the incident as a “near-shoot down of UK RJ,” a reference to the “Rivet Joint” moniker common for RC-135 reconnaissance planes. The aircraft is used to collect radio transmissions and other electronic messages.
British Defense Minister Ben Wallace at the time disclosed the incident to Parliament, saying that two Russian Su-27 fighter jets had been flying “recklessly” during the interception, with one plane coming within 15 feet of the British aircraft.
One of the Russian jets “released a missile” at a distance, Wallace told lawmakers, stopping short of describing the incident as a near-shootdown. He attributed the launch to a “technical malfunction,” adding that he had spoken with senior Russian defense officials about it.
The incident highlights the balancing act that Western military officials have sought to maintain as they attempt to aid the Ukrainian military and collect information about the war without being drawn directly into conflict with Moscow.
Russian officials have sought to portray NATO nations as aggressors, while the United States and its allies have said they are supporting Ukraine but are not at war with Russia.
The leaked papers detail a number of other Russian reactions to surveillance flights by U.S., British and French aircraft between October and the end of February, including one on December 30 in which another British Rivet Joint, accompanied by two British Typhoon fighter jets, was intercepted by Russian jets that came within 100 feet.
In another instance, a U.S. MQ-9 surveillance drone was intercepted on February 22, with Russian aircraft also coming within 100 feet. About two weeks later, on March 14, two Russian Su-27 jets intercepted an American MQ-9, dumping fuel on the UAV and eventually colliding with it. The incident prompted U.S. operators to down the drone it in the Black Sea, about 56 miles off the coast of Crimea.
John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said the drone had not been recovered — and it may never be.
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