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Russia downplays fly-by near U.S. Navy destroyer

MOSCOW — Russia's Defense Ministry has rejected complaints by U.S. officials who claimed Russian attack planes buzzed dangerously close to a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea earlier this week.

The U.S. European command said the Russian planes buzzed multiple times on Monday and Tuesday. Sailors aboard the destroyer Donald Cook said the aircraft flew low enough to create wake in the sea waters surrounding the ship, and the ship's commanding officer said the incident was "unsafe and unprofessional," the defense official said.

Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN Espanol that under U.S. military rules of engagement, the Navy ship could have opened fire. He condemned the Russian actions.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, said Thursday that the pilots of Russian Su-24 jets saw the ship and turned back "while using all measures of precaution." Konashenkov said he was baffled by what he described as the "distressed reaction of our American counterparts."

The U.S. European Command statement on Wednesday said officials are using diplomatic channels to address the matter.

"It may have been in international waters and therefore may not be any violation of international law, but it is still irresponsible behavior," said NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

"It illustrates that Russia is contributing to tensions," he said, speaking on the sidelines of a security conference in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

The U.S. European Command statement said Wednesday that officials are using diplomatic channels to address the matter.

Andrew Tilghman of Military Times contributed to this report.

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