The American RC-135 was conducting operations May 30 in international airspace over the Black Sea not far from the unrest in Ukraine when it was intercepted twice by different Russian Su-27 Flankers, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday.

In the first incident, the Russian fighter, which was armed, aggressively approached the RC-135 from behind and veered upward and to the right of the American aircraft, Warren said.

"We don't know exactly why this intercept was conducted unprofessionally. It may have been a lack of training on the part of the Russian pilot. It may have been just a general level of unprofessionalism of the individual who was flying the Flanker," Warren said.

The second intercept was conducted professionally, Warren said. It is routine for military aircraft to intercept others flying near the edge of international airspace and is unremarkable when done safely and professionally, Warren said.

But the initial intercept May 30 was troubling because it increased the risk of accident, injury or misunderstanding. "We have diplomatic means to lodge our displeasure with these types of incidents," Warren said.

The incident comes at a time when the U.S. and its European allies are conducting a large annual military exercise in the Baltic Sea, known as BALTOPS, near Russia's northern border.

It was the latest in a series of tense encounters with the Russian military.

In May, six Russian Su-24s flew within several hundred feet of the guided missile destroyer Ross, which was operating in the Black Sea near Crimea.

Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.

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