A Russian fighter jet intercepted an American surveillance aircraft over the Black Sea in what is thought to be an extremely close aerial encounter. While both countries agreed there was an interception, they vastly differ on the specifics of the incident.

The US State Department said the Russian Su-27 fighter plane's manoeuvres in international airspace were "unsafe", but the defence ministry in Moscow countered that by saying the exact opposite, calling it a "safe" operation. The distance between the Russian fighter and the EP-3 spy plane was said to be just five feet when they were engaged in the encounter, which lasted for more than two hours.

"This is but the latest example of Russian military activities disregarding international norms and agreements," said the State Department. "After the surveillance plane of the US Navy had changed its course to move away from the border, the Su-27 returned to its base.

"We call on Russia to cease these unsafe actions that increase the risk of miscalculation, danger to aircrew on both sides and midair collisions," added the statement.

The US Navy issued a similar statement as well, urging Russia to exercise caution in international airspace.

Though Nato members and Russia both operate in the Black Sea airspace, tense incidents like the latest one have become frequent after 2014's Ukrainian crisis. The western world and Russia are constantly at loggerheads over the particulars of aerial and maritime operations, blaming each other for perceived transgressions in international territories.

Responding to the latest aerial episode, the Russian defence ministry said in a statement, "A Su-27 fighter jet from the air defence alert force was used to intercept the target. The Su-27 approached the aircraft at a safe distance and identified it as a US ЕР-3Е Aries II electronic warfare and reconnaissance aircraft."

It said the US reconnaissance aircraft was approaching Russian airspace while flying above the neutral waters of the Black Sea, forcing Moscow to scramble the fighter jet.

Russia US plane interception
The aerial encounter between Russia's Su-27 and the US' EP-3 spy plane lasted for more than two hours - Representational image MAXIM ZMEYEV/Reuters file photo