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​US Southern Command said July 21, 2019, that this Venezuela SU-30 Flanker “aggressively shadowed” a US Navy EP-3 Aries II at an unsafe distance in international airspace over the Caribbean Sea on July 19, jeopardizing the crew and aircraft. SOUTHCOM photo.

A US Navy EP-3 Aries II and its crew were endangered July 19 when the signals intelligence-collection aircraft was “aggressively shadowed” by a Venezuelan SU-30 Flanker at an “unsafe distance” in international airspace over the Caribbean Sea, US Southern Command said July 21. 

Bloomberg first reported on the incident July 20, a day before SOUTHCOM posted its own statement, after Venezuela’s defense ministry reportedly accused the US aircraft of impeding on its airspace and violating international treaties.

“The EP-3 aircraft, flying a mission in approved international airspace, was approached in an unprofessional manner by the SU-30 that took off from an airfield 200 miles east of Caracas,” SOUTHCOM wrote in captions attached to footage from the incident. The command further noted that the US regularly conducts “multinationally recognized and approved detection and monitoring missions in the region.”

SOUTHCOM condemned the move, saying it shows Russia is providing military support to embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, whose administration US government officials publicly opposed in April.

According to a July 20 tweet from his official, Spanish-language account, Maduro met with Russia’s deputy foreign minister to discuss the importance of promoting cooperation in all areas. Maduro also met with the foreign ministers of Iran and Palestine, according to tweets he posted. These meetings were conducted during a Non-Aligned Movement ministerial summit held over the weekend in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela currently chairs the group.

Russian and Chinese aviators have also flown perilously close to the EP-3 in recent years, according to the Pentagon.