A Russian fighter jet nearly shot down an unarmed British reconnaissance plane over the Black Sea in September — a confrontation described in leaked US military documents as more significant than previously known, according to a report Sunday.
UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace told the British House of Commons in October that one of the two Russian Su-27 fighters that intercepted the RC-135 surveillance plane off the coast of Crimea “released a missile” at a distance, according to the Washington Post.
He attributed it to a “technical malfunction,” and said he’d spoken to his Russian counterparts about the incident.
But the mid-air scuffle appears to have been more serious than that, according to one of the leaked documents circulating online, the Washington Post reported.
That document referred to the incident as a “near-shoot down of UK RJ,” which is a reference to a commonly-used nickname for the British spy plane, the report said.
Wallace did not describe the incident in those terms when he spoke to British lawmakers, the newspaper said.
Had it gone differently, the dust-up could have spurred a wider fight with NATO that may have drawn the US into direct war with Russia, according to the Washington Post.
US defense officials declined to comment, the newspaper said, as has been their practice when asked about information from the leaked trove of classified Pentagon documents that recently appeared online.
A British embassy official also declined to comment, the Washington Post said. The Russian embassy did not respond to a request.
The leaked document was labeled “SECRET/NOFORN,” which is a classification that demands its contents not be shared with non-US citizens, the paper said.
It also detailed several other encounters between Russian jets and American, British and French aircraft out on surveillance flights between October and February.
The British and French typically sent out crewed planes, while the US normally relied on drones, the Washington Post said.
Russian jets routinely intercepted the flights as Moscow claimed a self-declared exclusion zone over parts of the Black Sea.
But the US has disregarded this, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying in March that America will fly “wherever international law allows,” the Washington Post said.
The Justice Department has opened a probe into how the documents found their way online, as has the Defense Department.
Many of the papers detail US national security secrets about Ukraine, China and the Middle East. And they reportedly show just how far the Pentagon has infiltrated Russian intelligence.
The documents appeared on Twitter, Telegram and other sites on Friday. Among other things, they contained warnings to US intelligence ahead of Russian attacks in Ukraine, outlined specific targets and showed how the war has devastated both Eastern European nations.
One of the leaks reportedly revealed America’s effort to spy on Ukraine’s political and military leaders.
Another included “a secret plan to prepare and equip nine brigades of the Armed Forces of Ukraine by the US and NATO for the spring offensive,” a Telegram account that posted documents said.
Meanwhile, fighting rages in the key city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donbas region.
The Russian invaders are threatening to cut a major supply route, British defense officials said Friday. And it’s become increasingly more likely that they will seize the town’s center.