By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Sunday accused a Venezuelan fighter aircraft of "aggressively" shadowing a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II plane over international airspace, in yet another sign of the increasing hostility between the two nations.
The encounter between the U.S. and Venezuelan planes occurred on Friday, the same day that the Trump administration announced it was sanctioning four top officials in Venezuela's military counterintelligence agency.
In a statement issued Sunday, the U.S. military said that it had determined the "Russian-made fighter aggressively shadowed the EP-3 at an unsafe distance in international airspace for a prolonged period of time, endangering the safety of the crew and jeopardizing the EP-3 mission."
The two planes did not collide and no one was hurt in the incident.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly used sanctions in an effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election has been deemed illegitimate by the United States and most Western nations.
Maduro has retained the backing of the country’s military and other institutions.
"The Maduro regime continues to undermine internationally recognized laws and demonstrate its contempt for international agreements authorizing the U.S. and other nations to safely conduct flights in international airspace," the U.S. military said in a statement.
The statement also took a swing at Russia, saying the close encounter in the air "demonstrates Russia's irresponsible military support to the illegitimate Maduro regime."
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Writing by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)