- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2015

An encounter by Russian warplanes near the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan this week was “not particularly threatening” and U.S. fighter jets escorted them out of the area, the White House said Thursday.

U.S. forces were conducting exercises with the South Korean military Wednesday when the pair of Russian Bear Bombers advanced near the aircraft carrier. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said four F/A-18 Super Hornets were scrambled from the USS Reagan, after the bombers were first intercepted by Korean military aircraft.

“The U.S. Navy aircraft did escort the Russian aircraft until they departed the area where the carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, was operating,” Mr. Earnest said. “This was not a particularly threatening encounter.”

U.S. officials with the 7th Fleet tried to contact the Russian aircraft but received no radio response. A U.S. ship escorting the USS Reagan followed the Russian aircraft as they withdrew, Navy officials said.

Military officials said that once the Russian bombers were under U.S. escort, they skimmed the water at an altitude of 500 feet and came within one nautical mile of the USS Reagan.

Russia regularly tries to test international boundaries with its warplanes. On July 4, Moscow sent planes near the west coast of the U.S.

The encounter comes at a time of heightened tensions with Moscow over the Russian military’s intervention in Syria to aid the regime of President Bashar Assad, and Russia’s continued aggression in eastern Ukraine.

The White House said it’s not a new Cold War, because Russia is no longer a superpower. Mr. Obama and his advisers rarely miss an opportunity to needle Russian President Vladimir Putin with references to his country’s diminished status since the days of the Soviet Union.

“Russia does not have the same kind of influence around the globe that the Soviet Union once did,” Mr. Earnest said. “Russia does not have the kind of economic power that the Soviet Union once was able to flex. The relationship between our two countries has been significantly affected by that. Because, in that time period, the influence of the United States has only increased and been enhanced.”

It was the second incident for the U.S. Navy this week in the Asia-Pacific region. Also on Wednesday, the destroyer USS Lassen sailed within a 12-nautical-mile territorial zone claimed by China around an artificial reef in the South China Sea.

The Navy engaged in the “freedom of navigation” operation because the U.S. considers the area international waters. China accused the U.S. of violating its “indisputable sovereignty.”

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