A “close call” between a Russian commercial aircraft and a NATO spy plane added fresh ammunition to the ongoing tensions between the two over the Ukraine issue.
According to Russia’s official aviation authority, an Aeroflot airliner flying from Tel Aviv to Moscow was forced to divert and change altitude over the Black Sea when a NATO CL-600 surveillance plane breached its permitted flight path, said Reuters.
It claimed that the NATO plane descended from an altitude of 11,000 to 9,200 meters and crossed the civilian aviation route, not responding to the air traffic service. The same day, Russian airline Aeroflot said its flight number SU501 en route from Israel to Russia was ordered to change its altitude.
#Zakharova on the #NATO spy plane incident: The actions by the US Air Force created a threat to civil aviation. And if now a catastrophe in airspace over the Black Sea has been prevented, it doesn’t mean the USA & NATO can continue to risk people's lives with impunity pic.twitter.com/Vtgt4O6kKO
— Russia in RSA 🇷🇺 (@EmbassyofRussia) December 6, 2021
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on her Facebook (now Meta) page, “Increased US and NATO warplane activity near Russian borders poses risks of dangerous accidents for civilian aviation.”
“Just because a disaster over the Black Sea was avoided this time does not imply the US and NATO may jeopardize people’s lives in the future without facing consequences.”
The US Must Apologize To Israel?
However, the United States and NATO allies were quick to dismiss claims of any threat caused to the commercial flight with the presence or interaction with the CL-600 spy plane.
This development came even as Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden were set to hold a video call, speculatively to ease the tensions between the two rivals.
Russia has complained of NATO warplanes and spy aircraft hovering around the Black Sea in the Eastern European region as tensions have heightened between Russia and Ukraine, the latter backed by the NATO forces.
The NATO spy plane posed no risk when it forced a civilian Russian aircraft to change its flight level over the Black Sea, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told a press briefing on Monday.
“There was no such risk, there was no such unsafe or unprofessional interaction, certainly not by the United States military. It was a matter that was simply resolved by common sense and routine traffic control procedures,” Kirby said.
“They did not fly at the same altitude. And this happens thousands of times all over the world in all manner and different circumstances. So, our Russian friends were speaking a bit hyperbolically about an incident that actually didn’t occur”, he added.
However, the incident sparked a debate about how responsible it is for countries to regulate their military and surveillance flights so as to not endanger the civilians on board the commercial planes. As it is, such interactions are not very common and are capable of sparking a conflict in the event of an accident.
“The incident was very troubling and speaks to the US military’s irresponsibility. Endangering a civilian aircraft is unacceptable. It’s important to note that the plane was flying from Tel Aviv and might therefore also have had Israeli citizens on board.
Israel is among America’s top allies anywhere in the world, which makes this even more concerning,” said a Moscow-based American geopolitical analyst Andrew Korybko.
“It’s unlikely that the US military knew where that civilian aircraft was departing from and where it would land, but Washington should at the very least apologize to Tel Aviv. It would be ideal if it also extended an apology to Moscow though that might not happen considering the tense political relations between them.
“Unfortunately, more such incidents are likely to happen unless the US and Russia reach an understanding – even if only an informal one – for de-escalating the situation in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea”, Korybko added.
Russia has carried out a massive troop build-up at the Ukraine border as tensions between the two remain unresolved in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea by Moscow in 2014.
Speculating an imminent membership of NATO for Ukraine, the Russian troops started swelling at the borders. The fact that NATO exercises were carried out in the East European region irked Russia even further. Russia considers the East European region as its own backyard and a region fundamental to its security.