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Russian planes change course to avoid collision with NATO spy jet over Black Sea

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The file photo provided by Russia’s Defense Ministry shows an interception by Russian airplanes on the Black Sea region. (Via RT news channel)

Russia's state aviation authority says its air traffic control personnel have been forced to divert the course of two aircraft to avoid collision with a NATO spy plane in the Black Sea region.

Rosaviatsia — Russia’s federal air transport agency — said in a statement on Saturday that a Moscow-bound Russian Aeroflot airliner had a day earlier been forced to change altitude over the Black Sea because a NATO CL-600 reconnaissance plane had crossed its designated flight path.

The agency said flight SU501 carrying 142 passengers had to drop 2,000 feet after air traffic control told it that another aircraft had crossed its path in close proximity.

“The course and the altitude of the civil aircraft were promptly changed. The measures taken by Russian air traffic controllers ensured the safety of flights in the area above the international waters of the Black Sea,” Rosaviatsia said in the statement.

The incident was acknowledged by Russia’s flagship carrier, Aeroflot, with the airline stating that the crew of the Moscow-bound flight had been able to see the NATO jet before they were told to change course by ground control.

The Russian civil aviation authority also said a smaller CL-650 aircraft flying from the Black Sea resort of Sochi to Skopje in North Macedonia was obliged to change its course.

Rosaviatsia did not say which NATO member had deployed the reconnaissance aircraft.

Russia's Defense Ministry said earlier on Friday that it had scrambled fighter jets to escort two US military reconnaissance planes over the Black Sea.

Rosaviatsia said an increase in flights by aircraft belonging to the US-led military alliance in the region was creating risks for civilian planes and that Moscow planned to lodge a diplomatic complaint.

Tensions have escalated between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine and the Black Sea region.

The United States, its NATO allies and Ukraine accuse Moscow of massing troops near Ukraine's border for a possible invasion. Russia says there is no such plan, but it has warned against any provocation from Ukraine that could trigger such an invasion.

Moscow also says Washington is involved in aggressive moves in the Black Sea, where Ukraine and the United States have held military drills recently.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the West and Kiev against crossing the Kremlin's "red lines" over staging military exercises and sending weaponry to Ukraine.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia have been deteriorating since 2014, when the then-Ukrainian territory of Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty. The US and the European Union-backed Kiev refused to recognize the referendum results.

Ukraine as well as the EU and the US also claim Russia has a hand in an ongoing conflict that erupted in the Donbass region of Ukraine between government forces and ethnic Russians in 2014. The West imposed sanctions on Russia after accusing it of interfering in the conflict. Moscow denies the allegation.

Ukraine claims that Russia has deployed heavy-armored vehicles, electronic warfare systems and nearly 100,000 soldiers around its borders, while Russia says Ukraine has deployed half of its army, or 125,000 troops, to the ethnic Russian region of Donbass, calling it “very dangerous adventurism” by Kiev.

The Kremlin has warned that the US and NATO are turning Ukraine into a “powder keg” by increasing arms supplies to Kiev and inflaming tensions in the country's volatile east.

Biden-Putin talk about Ukraine set on Tuesday: Spox

Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement that US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart are scheduled to meet online on Tuesday to discuss the volatile situation at Russia’s border with Ukraine.

"Biden will underscore US concerns with Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine and reaffirm the United States' support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," Psaki said in the statement.

The White House spokesperson said other topics would include "strategic stability, cyber and regional issues."

The Kremlin had earlier announced that the two leaders would also talk about bilateral ties and the implementation of agreements reached at their Geneva summit in June.

"The conversation will indeed take place on Tuesday," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters. "Bilateral relations, of course Ukraine and the realization of the agreements reached in Geneva are the main (items) on the agenda.”

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