A RC-135 U.S. reconnaissance plane is shown in an undated military handout photo.
A RC-135 U.S. reconnaissance plane is shown in an undated military handout photo.
A RC-135 U.S. reconnaissance plane is shown in an undated military handout photo.

U.S. military officials say one of its spy planes veered into Swedish airspace without permission recently, to avoid Russian planes over the Baltic Sea.

The U.S. European Command told the New York Times this week that an Air Force RC-135 surveillance plane, flying in international airspace on July 18, was approached by Russian fighter jets.  Officials said the pilot navigated into Swedish airspace by mistake while attempting to avoid the Russian planes.

The European Command said the pilot had been incorrectly advised to maneuver into the airspace by U.S. personnel. Sweden is not a member of NATO.

“They detected an attempted encounter by Russian aircraft,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Monday. “Personnel on the ground directed the RC-135 away from the encounter toward Swedish airspace. That was a mistake. U.S. personnel when they became aware that they’d entered Swedish airspace quickly exited the airspace.”

Warren said the European Command is taking active steps to make sure this type of mistake doesn’t happen again but he did not specify what those steps are.

The incident reportedly occurred near Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania that has a major port for Russia’s Baltic fleet.

Ties between the U.S. and Russia are at their lowest level since the Cold War because of tensions over Ukraine. The U.S. accuses Russia of supporting and arming pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, while Russia blames the U.S.-backed Kyiv government for the continuing violence between rebels and Ukrainian troops.

Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from The Pentagon

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