US authorities on Sunday said that a Venezuelan fighter jet "aggressively shadowed" an American intelligence plane flying in worldwide airspace over the Caribbean, underscoring rising tensions between the two nations.
The two planes did not collide and no one was hurt in the incident.
Upon identifying the plan as a USA electronic intelligence gathering aircraft, the fighter jet escorted it from the region, Venezuelan authorities said, adding that there have been 76 such incidents this year.
"The Maduro regime continues to undermine internationally recognized laws and demonstrate its contempt for global agreements authorizing the USA and other nations to safely conduct flights in worldwide airspace", the us military said in a statement.
"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. "As the U.S. aircraft did not comply with such protocols, it was forced to vacate (the Venezuelan airspace)".
Last week, a State Department spokesperson told U.S. media that Washington was considering diverting funds designated for other Latin American countries to beef up support for Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition figure who proclaimed himself "interim president" back in January.
On Friday, Venezuela's Defence Ministry accused the USA plane of violating the Latin American country's airspace, and said the incident was not the first time a United States aircraft has attempted to do so. "We will continually be alert to watching over the tranquility of the Venezuelan people".
The military said in a statement that the "Russian-made fighter aggressively shadowed the EP-3 at an unsafe distance in worldwide airspace for a prolonged period of time, endangering the safety of the crew and jeopardizing the EP-3 mission".
Since the Venezuelan plane was Russian-made, the U.S. military did not hesitate to blame its favorite bogeyman - Moscow - for the incident.
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.
In a second tweet, SouthCom claimed that Friday's incident demonstrated "Russia's irresponsible military support to [Nicolas] Maduro's illegitimate regime and underscores Maduro's recklessness and irresponsible behavior, which undermines worldwide rule of law and efforts to counter illicit trafficking".
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