A Venezuelan fighter jet "aggressively shadowed" an American reconnaissance aircraft flying over the Caribbean last week, military officials said.
According to a release from the U.S. Southern Command, the Russian-built SU-30 Flanker approached the U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, a EP-3 Aries II, on Friday in "an unprofessional manner" at an unsafe distance for a "prolonged period of time."
"After reviewing video documentation, we have determined the Russian-made fighter aggressively shadowed the EP-3 at an unsafe distance in international airspace for a prolonged period of time, endangering the safety of the crew and jeopardizing the EP-3 mission," the U.S. Southern Command wrote in a press release about the incident. "The U.S. routinely conducts multi-nationally recognized and approved detection and monitoring missions in the region to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and those of our partners."
The EP-3 aircraft was following international standards and rules at the time of the flyby, officials said.
The U.S. Southern Command said the incident was another example of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s disregard for international laws and agreements.
"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," the release added.
The Pentagon also chided Russia for its "irresponsible military support" of the "illegitimate Maduro regime" that "adds to Maduro’s growing legacy of reckless and negligent behavior."
However, Venezuela's Defense Minister, Vladimir Padrino, said the encounter occurred after the EP-3 was "intercepted" within Venezuela's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Reuters reports. An EEZ is a sea zone defined as stretching from a country's baseline out to 200 nautical miles from the coast.
Russia has backed the Venezuela president despite U.S.-imposed sanctions and their support of Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaido, who has proclaimed himself the nation's interim president after a widely disputed election that many countries - including the United States - did not recognize as legitimate.