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Venezuelan fighter jet ‘aggressively shadows’ US Navy recon aircraft

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A U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II reconnaissance aircraft, was approached in an “unprofessional manner” by a Venezuelan SU-30 Flanker fighter aircraft in “approved international airspace” on Friday according to a U.S. Southern Command press release on Sunday.

“After reviewing video documentation, we have determined the Russian-made fighter aggressively shadowed the EP-3 at an unsafe distance in international airspace for a prolonged period of time, endangering the safety of the crew and jeopardizing the EP-3 mission,” the release said.

The U.S. aircraft “was performing a multi-nationally recognized & approved mission in international airspace over #CaribbeanSea,” the Southern Command tweeted earlier today.

The Venezuelan fighter “took off from an airfield 200 miles east of Caracas,” but the release didn’t detail exactly how long the intercept was.

The United States, allies and regional partners routinely patrol the Caribbean Sea with ships and aircraft doing counter-drug missions, and have for years. Intercepts of U.S. aircraft have happened more frequently overseas closer to Russia and China, and are relatively uncommon so close to U.S. homeland.

The Southern Command, however, did not detail if this EP-3 Aries was looking for drug smugglers or if its purpose was to monitor Venezuela as tensions with the regime of the embattled President Nicolas Maduro have heightened in recent months.

Under Maduro, Southern Command said, the Venezuelan “regime continues to undermine internationally-recognized laws and demonstrate its contempt for international agreements” and those actions are undermining the ability of “the U.S. and other nations to safely conduct flights in international airspace” by authorizing such “unprovoked and unjustified acts.”

Southern Command’s release also took a swipe at Russia, which has continued supporting Maduro in the wake of January’s contested election. In the past months, many foreign governments, including the United States, have recognized the opposition candidate, Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate elected leader.

As recently as last month, Russia buzzed a U.S. P-8A Poseidon over the Mediterranean in a similar incident.

“This latest action also demonstrates Russia’s irresponsible military support to the illegitimate Maduro regime and adds to Maduro’s growing legacy of reckless and negligent behavior, which undermines international rule of law and efforts to counter illicit trafficking.” the release said.

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