WH Downplays Aggressive Maneuvers by Russian Jets; ‘Concerned,’ But No ‘Alarm’

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama White House says it is “concerned” about Russian fighter jets buzzing a U.S. Navy destroyer in international waters, “but I don’t think I’ve suggested any sort of alarm,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Thursday.

“I think civilians watching the video may have been alarmed. But I think we’ve acknowledged that this is the kind of behavior that we see from the Russians periodically.”

Earnest called the incident inconsistent with military “norms,” and he said the United States has conveyed its concerns to Russia through the military defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

“I can tell you that that communication has occurred,” Earnest said, adding that he doesn’t know the details of the message. “What I do know though, is that is a routine channel of communication. That the defense attaché in Moscow is responsible for communicating with his counterparts there on a regular basis on a wide range of issues. And it is not uncommon at all to use this channel to raise our concerns about this kind of conduct from the Russian military.”

A reporter questioned whether the incidents were routine: “I’ve never seen the video or photos like that of Russian aircraft buzzing a United States warship. By using the defense attaché channel, is it an effort to lower the heat of the incident, not going through a defense minister or foreign minister or head of state?”

“Well, I — I do think that the — there’s little value in further escalating the situation,” Earnest said. “I — what I understand to be true is that the incident that we saw is not routine, but certainly not unprecedented. There have been a number of other reports that we’ve even discussed in here where Russian military pilots have operated in a manner that’s inconsistent with the generally accepted norms of international air space and international waters. So, this is the most effective channel and the most commonly used channel for raising those concerns.”

A reporter asked if President Obama would call President Vladimir Putin to discuss the latest Russian aggression, in which pairs of Russian Su-24s flew very close — in one case, within an estimated 30 feet — of the USS Donald Cook, which was in international waters in the Baltic Sea, about 70 nautical miles from a Russian military base.

“Well, I certainly wouldn’t rule out presidential conversations, but I — at this point, if a phone call were to take place, it would not be a direct response to this particular incident,” Earnest said. “The president, you know, consults with President Putin on a range of issues, including the ongoing situation in Ukraine. But I’ll obviously keep you posted if there are any presidential phone calls that are scheduled.”

“What would be the U.S. reaction if the Russians were to undertake a similar exercise in international waters, let’s say Nome, Alaska? a reporter asked Earnest.

“Look, at this point I would — I wouldn’t get into the hypotheticals here,” the spokesman responded. “I think that what occurred is inconsistent with our international agreements with Russia. It is unfortunately not unprecedented. And — however, we do have an established channel for raising our concerns about this incident and those concerns have been raised. And I’m sure the message has been faithfully received by our Russian counterparts.”

Another reporter questioned why the U.S. sailors on the destroyer didn’t appear to take defensive positions when the Russian jets came so close to them: “It didn’t appear that they were trying to defend themselves in any way.

Earnest said he couldn’t address the “standard procedure for responding to these kinds incidents,” nor could he describe President Obama’s reaction to the incident: “I haven’t spoken to him about it directly…I’ll add it to my list.”

Secretary of State John Kerry took a harder line on the Russian aggression.

He told the Miami Herald and CNN Espanol on Thursday that the U.S. military “is not going to be intimidated on the high seas,” and he said that “under the rules of engagement,” it “could have been a shootdown.”

“We condemn this kind of behavior,” Kerry was quoted as saying. “It is reckless. It is provocative. It is dangerous.”

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