While millions of Americans yesterday watched the shocking video of two Russian fighter jets buzzing precariously close to a Navy warship in the Baltic Sea, the White House today sounded remarkably cool to the international incident, labeling it “not unprecedented.”
President Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest responded to questioning as though the simulated attack was nothing out of the ordinary.
“We certainly are concerned about the incident, but I don't think that I've suggested any sort of alarm. I think civilians watching the video may have been alarmed, but I think we've acknowledged that this is the kind of behavior we see from the Russians periodically. And we have our well-established channels to raise our concerns about it and to try to get it resolved.”
At the daily White House press briefing, several reporters in a row asked press secretary Josh Earnest to elaborate on the incident—or outline what consequences the administration has issued, or will issue, in light of the seemingly irresponsible action by Russia's pilots.
Mark Knoller, a CBS News veteran who has covered every president since Gerald Ford, in particular pressed Earnest on the US response to Russian SU-24's barreling down on the USS Donald Cook.
Knoller seemed perplexed that such a public episode wouldn't be handled by diplomatic higher-ups within the two governments, and not an assigned attaché in Moscow:
Knoller: “I've never seen video or photos like that of Russian aircraft buzzing a United States warship. By using the defense attaché channel, is it an effort to lower the heat of the incident, not going through a defense minister or foreign minister, or head of state?”
Earnest: “There's little value in further escalating the situation....What I understand to be true is that the incident we saw is not routine, but certainly not unprecedented....We've seen these kinds of acts from Russian military in the past.”
Earnest added the circumstance would probably come up at an annual diplomatic meeting which discusses the Ink Sea Treaty, an obscure Treaty from the 1970s that outlines the preferred behavior of countries in and above international waters.
The White House spokesman also definitively shut down the possibility of Obama calling President Putin to challenge him on why his fighter pilots deemed it ok to fly perilously close to members of our military:
“At this point if a phone call were to take place it would not be a direct response to this particular incident. The president consults with president Putin on a range of issues.”
Earnest, who appeared relaxed, resting one hand on the podium as he answered reporters, went so far as to say he was unaware of the president's reaction to the video seen around the world.
“I haven't spoken to him about it directly.”
The administration says it is the result of the video being made public that has everybody up in arms about the matter, and that incidents like this take place more often with Russian pilots than civilians are aware.
“It certainly is inconsistent with our expectations about the way pilots should conduct themselves in international airspace and over international waters, but it's not unprecedented.”
After repeated questioning, Earnest maintained the issue has been dealt with, saying he was certain the Russians have received the message from the United States that the pilots' behavior was unwarrented.