The US and Russian navies have had a close encounter in the Sea of Japan on Tuesday which has sparked a major diplomatic war of words.
Russia claims the submarine hunting US Navy ship USS John S McCain violated Russia’s sovereign maritime borders off the coast of the Russian Far Eastern capital, Vladivostok.
The Kremlin said the US ship strayed over two miles within Russia’s internationally recognized territorial waters, with the Ministry of Defense (MoD) asserting the warship had “violated” Russian waters and was “warned of the unacceptability of its actions” by the Udaloy-class destroyer Admiral Vinogradov.
The Russian destroyer was said to be tailing the American vessel and reportedly conveyed a verbal warning that it could be subject to ramming. According to Russian media sources:
The communiqué added that sailors had told the American ship of the “potential of resorting to ramming to force the trespasser out of the territory.” The US navy has not yet issued a response.
Once out of Russian waters, the US ship did not attempt to re-enter the area.
Here are the official Russian MoD statements via TASS:
Russia’s Admiral Vinogradov anti-submarine destroyer stopped the United States’ USS John S. McCain from violating the Russian border in the Peter the Great Gulf, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
According to the ministry, at 06:17 Moscow time (03:17 GMT) on Tuesday, the USS John S. McCain, which entered the Sea of Japan several days ago, violated Russia’s territorial waters in the Peter the Great Gulf, “passing the maritime border by two kilometers.”
“The Pacific Fleet’s Admiral Vinogradov anti-submarine destroyer used an international communication channel to warn the foreign vessel that such actions were unacceptable and the violator could be forced out of the country’s territorial waters in a ramming maneuver. After the warming was issued and the Admiral Vinogradov changed its course, the USS John S. McCain destroyer returned to international waters,” the statement said.
The US 7th Fleet is now saying it was conducting a legitimate “freedom of navigation” exercise and that it doesn’t recognize the Russian claims that maritime borders were violated, because it doesn’t recognize the border designation.
USS John S. McCain conducts Freedom of Navigation Operation https://t.co/8qrcYVZFFX
— 7th Fleet (@US7thFleet) November 24, 2020
The US 7th Fleet statement said in response to the Russian charge:
In 1984, the U.S.S.R declared a system of straight baselines along its coasts, including a straight baseline enclosing Peter the Great Bay as claimed internal waters. This 106-nautical mile (nm) closing line is inconsistent with the rules of international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention to enclose the waters of a bay. By drawing this closing line, the U.S.S.R. attempted to claim more internal waters – and territorial sea farther from shore – than it is entitled to claim under international law. Russia has continued the U.S.S.R. claim.
Thus the border is not being recognized by the US Navy, as statement added bluntly: “By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are not Russia’s territorial sea and that the United States does not acquiesce in Russia’s claim that Peter the Great is a ‘historic bay’ under international law.
It’s not the first time an intercept incident has occurred in disputed waters in the Sea of Japan, but this marks a severe escalation given the rare Russian direct threat of ramming.