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Did China Just Re-Enact the Famous 'Birdie' Scene From 'Top Gun' With U.S. Plane?

Early in Top Gun, that monument to American military supremacy and fighter-jock guilt, Maverick and Goose encounter a pair of hostile MiGs. In an attempt to avoid an armed encounter and to scare off the (presumably) Soviet fighters, Maverick, played by Tom Cruise, executes one of the most famous aerial maneuvers in film history. While inverted, he approaches the MiG from above, drops down to a perilously close distance, and flips the bird to his opponent. Naturally, the MiG immediately bugs out.

Earlier this week, a Chinese fighter jet pulled off a similar stunt with a U.S. spy plane. On Monday, Aug. 18, a Chinese Su-27 fighter jet intercepted a U.S. P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane near Hainan Island. The P-8 had likely been monitoring a massive Chinese military exercise nearby, and the Su-27 flew dangerously close to its American opponent, a clear mark of the Chinese government's displeasure at U.S. surveillance activities off the Chinese coast.

At a briefing Friday, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby provided more details on the encounter. The Chinese jet flew directly in front of the P-8 at a 90-degree angle about 40 feet from the modified Boeing 737. Kirby said the Su-27 passed the P-8 with its belly facing the plane, most likely to display its weapons' load to the American pilots. The Chinese plane then pulled up alongside the P-8 and performed a barrel roll over the U.S. plane.

No word on whether the Chinese aviator flipped the bird in the direction of the Americans.

The encounter in Top Gun was of course entirely fanciful, especially in how close the two planes approached one another. According to Kirby, the Chinese plane came no closer to the P-8 than 20 feet. But tense encounters in international airspace do happen between rival militaries. And this is about as close as you can get in real life to that famous Hollywood scene:

Photo via YouTube/Tommy Manson

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No Graffiti For You! Donetsk Rebels Are Holding Captive City's Guerrilla Artist

Earlier this summer, mysterious, surrealist, and deeply irreverent art began appearing on the streets of Donetsk. The graffiti and wooden cutouts openly mocked the city's pro-Russian rebels, depicting them as devils. A graffiti portrait of the rebel leader, Igor Strelkov, urged him to commit suicide. The rebels did not take kindly to the art. Sergey Zakharov, the artist behind the project, has disappeared. His friends and family say that he is a prisoner of the Donetsk People's Republic, as the putative leaders of the breakaway regions call their new "country."

Zakharov, the founder of the art collective Myrzilka, was forcibly taken from his workshop on Aug. 6, according to Sergii Mazurkevych, a member of the collective and its spokesman. Four armed men took Zakharov from his workshop under the direction of a man in civilian clothes. No reason was given as to why Zakharov was detained but Mazurkevych believes it is because of the critical art displayed around Donetsk.

Myrzilka's art installations in Donetsk generated international headlines in July when the group posted photos of their works, which satirized Donetsk rebels as devils and demons. Most famously, a graffiti portrait of rebel commander Igor Strelkov showed him with a gun to his head. The caption read "Just Do It."

Mazurkevych joined the art collective in early July and said he was eager to collaborate with Zakharov because he wanted to show a more nuanced version of life in rebel-controlled Donetsk. "There are lots of people living in Donetsk who do not want the Donetsk People's Republic," Mazurkevych told Foreign Policy. "There are many who want to protest, but are too afraid."

"Sergey Zakharov, however, was not one of those people. He could not keep silent any longer," he added.

In the past few weeks, Ukrainian troops have regained territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels and have encircled the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Government forces have also retaken many smaller settlements in Ukraine's east.

As their military fortunes have declined, the separatists are showing signs of weakness. Three separatist leaders were replaced last week and the Donetsk "army" recently instituted the death penalty for desertion. This vulnerable position may help explain the sensitivity and harsh response to Zakharov's art and small act of resistance.

Following Zakharov's abduction, Mazurkevych, along with the artist's relatives, tried negotiating his release with his captors. Meanwhile, Mazurkevych urged Russian and Ukrainian journalists to publicize his colleague's arrest and create public pressure for the artist's release. On Saturday, a group of Russian artists in St. Petersburg set up an art tribute to Zakharov. The installation featured a Donetsk fighter dressed as the grim reaper threatening to execute a cowering pencil. "Free Myrzilka!" an inscription reads. 

By Saturday night, it seemed the lobbying efforts had paid off. That evening, Zakharov was briefly released, according to Mazurkevych. Zakharov called Mazurkevych and told him that he was fine. Then, on Monday, armed men once more seized Zakharov, whose second capture was witnessed by his neighbor, who relayed the events to Mazurkevych.

Zakharov is believed to be held in a Donetsk building belonging to the Security Service of Ukraine -- or at least it used to belong to them until they were ousted by rebels.

VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images