A Venezuelan fighter jet “aggressively shadowed” a U.S. reconnaissance plane last week, putting the American crew in danger, the U.S. Southern Command announced Sunday. 

Authorities said the incident occurred Friday when the U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II was in international airspace on a routine “detection and monitoring mission” when the Russian-made SU-30 flanker “approached in an unprofessional manner” at an “unsafe distance.” 

In a statement, the U.S. Southern Command said the encounter highlights Russia’s “irresponsible military support” to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s regime, as well as Maduro’s “recklessness and irresponsible behavior.” The statement also said the action “undermines international rule of law and efforts to counter illicit trafficking.” 

“The Maduro regime continues to undermine internationally-recognized laws and demonstrate its contempt for international agreements authorizing the U.S. and other nations to safely conduct flights in international airspace,” it said. “Despite the Venezuelan people’s suffering, his nation’s vital infrastructure crumbling, and children starving, Maduro chooses to use his country’s precious resources to engage in unprovoked and unjustified acts.” 

In a pair of tweets, the U.S. Southern Command shared video and still images of the Venezuelan aircraft. 

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Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said the U.S. plane entered Venezuelan airspace without prior notification, violating international rules. He said the flight also endangered commercial flights from Venezuela’s main airport.

“The Armed Forces of Venezuela firmly reject this type of provocation on the part of the United States of America,” Padrino López said in a statement. “We will continually be alert to watching over the tranquility of the Venezuelan people.”

Tensions between the U.S. and Maduro’s socialist government have been high in recent months. The Trump administration recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s president and has said Maduro’s policies are clearly to blame for the oil-rich country’s current economic and humanitarian crisis.

Maduro has said the U.S. is an imperialist country trying to engineer a coup. More than 50 nations have expressed support for Guaidó, while Maduro has support from countries such as Cuba, China, Russia and Iran. 

Venezuela claimed that it identified the U.S. “electronic espionage” aircraft and escorted it from the area. It said it had detected more than 70 such flights this year. 

Sen Marco Rubio, R-Fla., addressed the incident in a tweet on Sunday. 

“Venezuela has only 3 fighter jets that can fly,” Rubio said. “If they ever harmed any U.S. aircraft they would soon have zero.” 

Contributing: The Associated Press


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