The US military on Sunday accused a Venezuelan fighter aircraft of “aggressively” shadowing a US Navy EP-3 Aries II plane over international airspace, in yet another sign of the increasing hostility between the two nations.
The encounter between the United States and Venezuelan planes occurred on Friday, the same day that the Trump administration announced it was sanctioning four top officials in Venezuela‘s military counterintelligence agency.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the US military said that it had 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 jeopardising the EP-3 mission”.
1 of 2 JUST RELEASED #Venezuela SU-30 Flanker “aggressively shadowed” a U.S. EP-3 aircraft at an unsafe distance July 19, jeopardizing the crew & aircraft. The EP-3 was performing a multi-nationally recognized & approved mission in international airspace over #CaribbeanSea. pic.twitter.com/edjmPqXbmP
— U.S. Southern Command (@Southcom) July 21, 2019
The two planes did not collide and no one was hurt in the incident.
The US military did not give details of the EP-3’s mission nor say where the encounter took place.
In a statement published by Venezuela’s government, the South American country’s armed forces said they rejected “the incursion of a US reconnaissance and intelligence aircraft” in the flight area surrounding Maiquetia airport, which serves the capital city of Caracas.
The aircraft was detected in Venezuelan airspace on Friday morning and did not report its presence to local authorities, the statement said, adding that it posed a risk to other planes in the area.
“At 11:33 am local time (15:00GMT) two Venezuelan fighter jets intercepted the aircraft and it was escorted out of Venezuela’s airspace,” the statement read.
According to the statement so far this year the government has detected more than 70 spy aircrafts flying without the required authorisation.
“These detections only show the high technical capabilities of our army,” the government added.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly used sanctions in an effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election has been deemed illegitimate by the United States and most Western nations.
Maduro has retained the backing of Venezuela’s military and other institutions, as well as China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba.
“The Maduro regime continues to undermine internationally recognised laws and demonstrate its contempt for international agreements authorising the US and other nations to safely conduct flights in international airspace,” the US military said in a statement.
The statement also took a swing at Russia, saying the close encounter in the air “demonstrates Russia’s irresponsible military support to the illegitimate Maduro regime”.