While the establishment media has been busy trying to distract Americans with the Russiagate boondoggle, real tension has been building between the two nations – and it might be coming to a head.
Friday morning, Russian and U.S. warships nearly collided in the Philippine Sea, and both sides blame the other. Russian state media claimed that the U.S. cruiser, the USS Chancellorsville, “hindered the passage” of their anti-submarine destroyer, the Admiral Vinogradov. The U.S. claims that it was the Russian ship that caused the near collision, however, and calls the Russian report propaganda.
This is but the second time in three days that the U.S. Navy has had close calls with Russian forces. Could this be intentional harassment by Russia?
What is known – regardless of which side you believe – is that two ships came very close to hitting one another Friday, June 7. Before that, a Russian fighter intercepted a U.S. plane three times in under three hours over the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, June 4. And just the previous month, U.S. F-22s intercepted four Russian bombers and two Russian SU-35 fighters off the coast of Alaska.
U.S. and Canadian jets have been intercepting Russian bombers and fighters in the international airspace near Alaska several times a year for the last few years. General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the commander of NORAD, told Congress that “[p]atrols by Russian military aircraft off the coasts of the United States and Canada have grown increasingly complex in recent years.”
“When moving (on) parallel courses of a detachment of ships of the Pacific Fleet and a carrier group of the US Navy, the cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed its direction and crossed within 50 meters of the Admiral Vinogradov,” the official Russian story goes. They also claim that it occurred in the East China Sea.
The American version of the story is a little different. According to U.S. Navy spokesman Commander Clayton Doss, the Russian destroyer made an unsafe maneuver against the Chancellorsville, getting somewhere within 50 and 100 feet and causing the American crew to “execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision.” “We consider Russia’s actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional,” he added.
Additionally, according to the U.S. Navy, the incident occurred in the Philippine Sea, not the East China. U.S. officials told CNN that the Navy was working to declassify images that would debunk the Russian narrative, and released an aerial photo of the two ships as they nearly collided.
The border between the two is the Senakaku Islands south of Japan and Taiwan, and both bodies of water are outside Russia’s typical sphere of influence. As retired Navy captain and former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center Carl Schuster told ABC News, the Russians usually do harass American ships when in waters they consider to be within their sphere of influence, such as the Black Sea, Barents Sea, and the waters off Vladivostok.
As Schuster further explained, international maritime law requires ships to keep a safe distance, generally 1,000 yards, when passing each other. Also, it prohibits any interference with other vessels’ attempts to conduct flight operations – another rule the Russians seem to have broken, as a helicopter was trying to land on the American cruiser at the time.
After the June 4 aerial confrontation, the U.S. 6th Fleet reported that “a U.S. P-8A Poseidon aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-35 three times over the course of 175 minutes.”
The second was considered unsafe because the Russian plane “conducted a high speed pass directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk.” The fighter was allegedly armed and flew about 150 feet in front of the American plane. The next day, however, Russia disputed the Navy’s description of events. “All flights of Russian aircraft were carried out in accordance with the international rules for the use of airspace,” the Ministry of Defense claimed. “There were no questions or complaints from the American center of flight deconfliction line in Syria to the Russian command.”
These most recent dangerous encounters come on the heels of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with Putin and his warning about interfering with American elections in the future. Pompeo takes a harder line on this than President Trump, and it could be that the Russian president didn’t much appreciate it and that this is part of his response. It wasn’t that long ago that another country, North Korea, took issue with the Secretary of State.
Captain Schuster believes it’s more about challenging American dominance. “Putin clearly has ordered the Russian Navy to pressure USN whenever opportunities exist,” he said. “It may possibly be a show of political support for China while Xi is in Moscow, but more likely to signal that Russia is willing to challenge the US dominance on the world stage and at sea.”
Just hours after the incident, Putin criticized America’s “aggressive tactics,” such as the campaign against Chinese telecoms firm Huawei, saying that it can lead to trade wars – and maybe even real wars. Reuters reports that Putin appeared alongside Xi at an economic forum in St Petersburg. “States which previously promoted free trade and honest and open competition have started speaking the language of trade wars and sanctions, of open economic raiding using arm-twisting and scare tactics, of eliminating competitors using so-called non-market methods,” the Russian president declared.
Is Putin merely making Russia’s presence known to look tough and, perhaps, strengthen his position in international negotiations? Could the recent encounters and the increased flights of bombers and fighters around North America be a test of our responsiveness? What does the Russian president have up his sleeve?
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