Russian aircraft buzzed past the USS Donald Cook while in the Baltic Sea for the second time this past week as they conducted a NATO exercise with Poland. According to CBS News,

The first, on April 11, involved two Russian SU24s, when the USS Donald Cook left the Polish port of Gdynia and was about 70 nautical miles from Kaliningrad in the Baltic Sea. The official said the Russian jets made 20 passes of the American ship and flew within 1,000 yards at an altitude of just 100 feet.

In the second incident on April 12, two Russian KA27 Helix helicopters flew several circles around the Donald Cook, apparently taking photos, after which two jets again made numerous close passes of the ship in what the official described as “Simulated Attack Profile.”

This should be considered a very bold and provocative move, as the Russians are showing their military strength in the area. It could be considered a “simulated attack profile,” which would violate the 1973 treaty between the U.S. and Russia prohibiting those types of maneuvers. The crew of the USS Donald Cook didn’t directly respond to the aircraft, as they did not see any armament on the wings. The pilots of the Russian aircraft should be grateful that the commander and sailors reacted the way they did, otherwise they could have quickly found themselves at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Russia seems to be testing the waters to see just how much they can get away with before we respond, either diplomatically or militarily. According to CNN, this is not the first time these types of interactions have occurred:

Close encounters between Russian military aircraft and U.S. warships have become increasing common in recent months. In October, U.S. Navy jets intercepted two Russian Tu-142 aircraft that were flying near the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Pacific Ocean.
In an incident in June, a Russian Su-24 jet flew within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of a U.S. guided-missile destroyer that was sailing in the Black Sea near Crimea.

This show of force sends a message to both the U.S. and to Poland. Yet, Russia is defending their pilots’ behavior. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said he was surprised by the U.S. reaction to the incident:

Frankly speaking, even does not understand the reason for such a painful reaction of our American colleagues,” Konashenkov said. “The principle of freedom of navigation for the U.S. destroyer, which is staying in close proximity to a Russian naval base in the Baltic Sea, does at all not cancel the principle of freedom of flight for Russian aircraft.”—AP News

Should the U.S. continue to turn the other cheek or engage following these provocations? One decision could make the U.S. appear weak, which could affect our influence in Syria and Ukraine. The other decision—to act militarily—can have grave cascading effects. The only reasonable option is to engage with Russia diplomatically in order to stop this type of behavior. Does Secretary of State John Kerry have enough influence with Russia to make a difference? The only ammunition he may have is the possible treaty violation.

EUCOM officially released the statement, and the videos below were released by the DoD.