U.S. authorities on Sunday said that a Venezuelan fighter jet "aggressively shadowed" an American intelligence plane flying in international airspace over the Caribbean, underscoring rising tensions between the two nations.
The U.S. Southern Command said that Venezuela's action demonstrates reckless behavior by President Nicolás Maduro, whose government accused the U.S. plane of entering Venezuelan airspace.
U.S. authorities said their EP-3 plane was performing a multi-nationally approved mission on Friday and the Venezuelan SU-30 fighter jet closely trailed the plane, which the U.S. says endangered its crew.
The response by the Venezuelan fighter jet "undermines int'l rule of law & efforts to counter illicit trafficking," U.S. authorities tweeted, providing video of what they said was the Russian-made jet.
The Trump administration and more than 50 other nations back opposition leader Juan Guaidó's attempt to oust Maduro, whom they accuse of leading the country into a historic crisis. The socialist leader maintains support from countries including Cuba, China and Russia.
"This latest action also demonstrates Russia's irresponsible military support to the illegitimate Maduro regime and adds to Maduro's growing legacy of reckless and negligent behavior," U.S. officials said in a statement.
Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said the U.S. plane entered Venezuelan airspace without prior notification, violating international rules. He said the flight also endangered commercial flights from Venezuela's main airport.
Upon identifying the plan as a U.S. electronic intelligence gathering aircraft, the fighter jet escorted it from the region, Venezuelan authorities said, adding that there have been 76 such incidents this year.
"The Armed Forces of Venezuela firmly reject this type of provocation on the part of the United States of America," Padrino López said in a statement. "We will continually be alert to watching over the tranquility of the Venezuelan people."
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who is a harsh critic of Maduro, issued a warning to Venezuela while tweeting video images of the fighter jet.
"Venezuela only has 3 fighter jets that can fly," Rubio said on Twitter. "If they ever harmed any U.S. aircraft they would soon have zero."