MOSCOW: Poland’s former president and democracy icon Lech Walesa said he would not hesitate to “knock off the wing” of Russian jets if he were in charge of the US destroyer Donald Cook.

“If I were the commander of this ship, if these [Russian] planes were flying I would shoot them but not to kill. I would knock off the wing,” the Nobel Peace Prize recipient of 1983 told Radio Free Europe.

The interview, published Saturday, comes ahead of a NATO summit in Warsaw scheduled for July 8-9 and right after Moscow mended ties with Ankara after seven months of discord over Russia’s downed jet.

Asked if such a hostile gesture could spark a full-fledged military confrontation between NATO and Russia, he dismissed such a possibility, saying: “Not a chance. What conflict?” adding “No one wants conflict, and Russia does not want it.”

Walesa argued that actual warfare is too costly an enterprise to be waged by Russia, who he says “cannot afford a conflict” as “it is terribly expensive.” Moscow’s weapon would rather be “scare and blackmail,” he added.

The incident with the USS Donald Cook occurred during the joint US-Poland military drills in the Baltic Sea in mid-April, as the allies were rehearsing the landing of a Polish helicopter on the ship’s deck some 70 kilometers from a Russian naval base. 

Su-24 bombers reportedly flew in close proximity to the vessel, but without munitions, with the Pentagon accusing the squadron of performing “aggressive flight maneuvers.” Russia’s Defense Ministry said all was done “in accordance with all the necessary safety rules.”

 Relations between US-led NATO and Russia have been strained recently, which has resulted not only in the increased number of drills in Eastern Europe and Russia’s western border, but also led to other incidents. The latest occurred when the US guided-missile destroyer Gravely was sailing just 180 meters (590 feet) from the Russian frigate Yaroslav Mydry in the Eastern Mediterranean on June 17.

“The US sailors, in particular, neglected Rule 13, which stipulates that an overtaking vessel must keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

In turn, US European Command issued a counter-statement, arguing that it had been the Russian vessel that had come to close to the navy’s USS San Jacinto, thus performing “aggressive, erratic maneuvers.”