While much of Venezuela is in a state of near-collapse, its air force is still flying-and behaving aggressively, according to the U.S. military.
The encounter between the U.S. and Venezuelan planes occurred on Friday, the same day that the Trump administration announced it was sanctioning four top officials in Venezuela's military counterintelligence agency.
"After reviewing video documentation, we have determined the Russian-made fighter aggressively shadowed the EP-3 at an unsafe distance in global airspace for a prolonged period of time, endangering the safety of the crew and jeopardizing the EP-3 mission", SOUTHCOM said in a statement.
The incident underscored rising tensions between the two nations.
The South American nation was plunged into political turmoil in January when National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro's authority. "Despite the Venezuelan people's suffering, his nation's vital infrastructure crumbling, and children starving, Maduro chooses to use his country's precious resources to engage in unprovoked and unjustified acts".
Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the US plane entered Venezuelan airspace without prior notification, violating global rules.
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In a statement, the U.S. Southern Command said the encounter highlights Russia's "irresponsible military support" to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's regime, as well as Maduro's "recklessness and irresponsible behavior".
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A Venezuelan fighter jet "aggressively shadowed" a U.S. Navy aircraft, endangering the crew and the mission, U.S. Southern Command said Sunday. He said the flight also endangered commercial flights from Venezuela's main airport.
Venezuelan officials claimed the aircraft entered Venezuelan airspace without notification and was "a clear provocation" in addition to being in violation of global treaties.
At 11.33 a.m. local time two Venezuelan fighter jets intercepted the aircraft and it was escorted out of Venezuela's airspace, the statement said.
In a statement, the government said this was the 76th time this year that there had been "this type of incident" with USA military aircraft.