“Sloppy,” or exceedingly precise? The US complained about Russian fighter jets intercepting an American reconnaissance flight in international air space last week, with the Pentagon suggesting that the pilots acted unprofessionally. The incident, especially in the context of Russian aggression on all frontiers, looks much more like an exacting maneuver intended to send a very specific message:

The Pentagon on Monday denounced a recent incident in which a Russian pilot intercepted a U.S. aircraft over the Baltic Sea as “sloppy airmanship.”

“Frankly, this is an example of sloppy airmanship on the part of a Russian pilot,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters.

The description of the maneuver makes it sound like something else entirely:

He said the Russian jet approached the U.S. plane at a “high rate of speed,” and performed maneuvers that the U.S. crew found “exceptionally unsafe” and “a blatant display of unprofessionalism.”

One maneuver included “tilting in such a way to show off the weapons that it was carrying,” he said.

Warren also disputed Russian claims that the U.S. aircraft’s transponder had been turned off, and said there was no communication between the two aircraft.

“U.S. aircraft was operating in accordance with international civil aviation rules of flight in international airspace, exercising freedom of navigation overflight, and at no time crossed into Russian national airspace,” he said.

That sounds like a message, one that Russia has been sending for at least a year. On April 23rd, 2014, another reconnaissance flight had a similar close encounter with the Putin kind, right down to the belly roll:

The fly-by “put the lives of the U.S. crew in jeopardy,” the U.S. official said, calling it “one of the most dangerous close passes in decades.”

The incident occurred on April 23, the Defense Department official said, when a U.S. Air Force RC-135U aircraft flying on a routine mission over the Sea of Okhotsk was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker aircraft.

The Russian aircraft turned and “showed its belly” to the U.S. crew so they could see it was armed with missiles, a U.S. military official said Tuesday.

Russian pilots haven’t just gotten aggressive on defense, either. The RAF had to scramble fighters earlier today when Russian military aircraft probed British airspace. At the same time, the Russian Northern Fleet went through the English Channel on their way to war games in the North Atlantic:

This isn’t sloppiness, and it’s not new either; Russian jets have probed US and NATO airspaces for more than a year, and have tried to scare off recon flights through aggressive maneuvers. The Putin regime is making an announcement that imperial Russia has returned in its latest iteration, and that it intends to aggressively rebuild the empire lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. That’s something to consider when we strategize our policies in the Middle East around Vladimir Putin’s friendship and guarantees.