Media outlets in Russia began crowing last week about an incident in the Black Sea, off the coast of the contested Crimean Peninsula. Russian fighters buzzed an American destroyer, sending it running scared after it entered Russian waters, they said. But the US Navy just verbally struck back, with video of the encounter.
The story seemed fairly outlandish when it first came out, with Russia claiming its Su-24 Fencers had actually even come close to making the USS Ross, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, feel threatened. Nor did it sound likely to us that the Ross would act provocatively or enter Russian waters while operating in the Black Sea after leaving the Romanian port of Costanta, something US Navy ships have done for years now.
But today, the US Navy released the video below, which shows a Russian Navy Su-24 Fencer, many of which have been posted on the Crimean Peninsula for decades, making a low pass abreast the USS Ross.
This is hardly something that the Ross could not defend against. Quite the contrary actually.
But Russian state media outlet Sputnik quoted an unnamed source in “Crimea’s security forces” saying that really, it was the Americans being the bullies:
The ship’s crew acted provocatively and aggressively, which caused alarm among operators of monitoring stations and Black Sea Fleet ships carrying out assignments in the Black Sea. Scrambled Su-24 attack jets demonstrated a readiness to forcibly suppress border violations and defend the country’s interest.
It seems that the Americans did not forget the April 2014 incident when one Su-24 actually shut down all equipment on the new USS Donald Cook American destroyer with anti-missile system elements.
The “source” is referencing a highly questionable electronic attack event and flyby that took place against another US Navy surface combatant, the USS Donald Cook, that was operating in the Black Sea last year during the opening stages of Russia’s Ukraine campaign.
Is an Su-24 a threat? Sure it is, in that they can carry some fairly wicked anti-ship missiles. But these attacks occur at standoff ranges, not within visual range. If anything, the Russian jet’s offering of free target practice was good training for the Ross’s crew, and passes like this one occur in international waters fairly regularly. And many of those, too, can carry anti-ship missiles like the Su-24.
And just as well, no electronic warfare or jamming was reported during the event. The full US Navy statement goes as such:
USS Ross (DDG 71) observes the flight by a Russian SU 24 aircraft while both were operating in international waters and airspace. Ross continued on her mission after observing the aircraft return to base. At no time did Ross act aggressively nor did she deviate from her planned operations. The conduct of her crew has been and continues to be professional. Ross’ Sailors observed that the SU 24 carried no weapons – wings were “clean.” The U.S. Navy operates ships in the Black Sea on a routine basis, consistent with the Montreux Convention and International Law.
Like everything else involving Russia and the US right now, you have to take these initial reports with the proverbial grain of salt. Russian media is highly inconsistent when it comes to these types of stories and some claims are just not worth re-printing with corroboration or waiting for the other side’s story first.
This is just one of those instances.
Yet when you look at it from a propaganda perspective, considering that throngs of international headlines reposted the initial story blindly, with headlines like “Russia Chases Off US Destroyer” and other variations, the initial story probably did its job as far as Russian interests are concerned.
Update 6/1/2015 4:30pm EST: Another video has been released by the U.S. Navy showing what appears to be another Su-24 flyby. The video is dated today. This time, the event seems to have occurred while the USS Ross was accompanied by Ukrainian naval vessels, with the Ukrainian Navy’s flagship, the Hetman Sahaydachiniy (U130), visible in the immediate foreground.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.