A Venezuelan fighter jet “aggressively shadowed” a U.S. Navy aircraft, endangering the crew and the mission, U.S. Southern Command said Sunday.
In a statement, Southcom said the U.S. Navy EP-3 Aires II was flying in international airspace off the coast of the South American nation on July 19 when it was approached in an “unprofessional manner” by a Su-30 Flanker Venezuelan fighter.
Video footage released by the military, shows the Venezuelan fighter jet closing in on the U.S. surveillance aircraft.
“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,” SouthCom said.
The Venezuelan government said Sunday it was forced to scramble its jets on Thursday when the U.S. aircraft violated its airspace and refused to identify itself. Attempts to contact the U.S. crew failed, so the Venezuelan air force used “persuasive” measures to force the plane to change course.
In a statement, the government said this was the 76th time this year that there had been “this type of incident” with U.S. military aircraft.
“The [Armed Forces] firmly reject this type of provocation by the United States and will be alert in order to safeguard the peace of the Venezuelan people who have decided to...be free, independent and sovereign.”
The United States and Venezuela have been at odds for years and the Donald Trump administration has been trying to force the country’s leader, Nicolás Maduro, out of office. While Maduro is increasingly isolated, he still has the support of key allies like Russia and Turkey.
“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,” Southcom said.