WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is ramping up its naval muscle, sending U.S. ships off the coast of Russia and considering a naval show of force in the Black Sea where Moscow has been aggressive, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
USS McCampbell “sailed in the vicinity of Peter the Great Bay to challenge Russia’s excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the United States and other nations,” Lt. Rachel McMarr, a spokesperson for the U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement to the media.
The Wednesday sailing was conducted under what the Pentagon identifies as a “freedom of navigation operation” — or FONOP in Pentagon parlance. That tactic is used to sail in waters considered international — more than 12 nautical miles from shore — but which are claimed by one or more nations. Under international maritime law, national sovereignty over water ends at 12 nautical miles.
Russia claims all of Peter the Great Bay, which is home to its Pacific fleet based in Vladivostok. The bay is the largest gulf in the Sea of Japan.
The U.S. has regularly challenged China’s claim to sovereignty in the South China Sea with regular sailings and air flights in the region, much to the displeasure of Beijing. This was the first FONOP in that part of the Sea of Japan since 1987, Pentagon officials said.
“U.S. forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis,” McMarr said in the statement. “These operations demonstrate the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the Sea of Japan, as in other places around the globe.”
The sailing was first reported by CNN.
The sailing underscores the increasing ire of Defense Secretary James Mattis toward Russia and its adventurism in the Middle East and on its borders.
Appearing at the Reagan National Defense Forum over the weekend, Mattis slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “duplicitous violation” of a nuclear weapons treaty and the recent seizure of three Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea.
“We are dealing with someone that we simply cannot trust,” Mattis said during an interview with Fox News. “Russia doesn’t speak with one voice. We find that Russia, on the surface, tries to make certain very deceitful statements stick. They don’t stick. Their actions speak louder than words. And it has worsened the relationship.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has asked the State Department to seek approval from Turkey to sail U.S. warships into the Black Sea. Under the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, governments must secure permission from Turkey 15 days before seeking to enter the Bosporus Straits, the only route into the Black Sea from the Mediterranean Sea.
“The U.S. files Montreux Convention requests regularly but doesn’t always follow through by sending a ship,” Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Thursday.
Any sailing would be conducted by the Navy’s 6th Fleet, which is based in Naples, Italy.
The request for passage was first reported by CNN.
Last week, Mattis said there would not be a show of force in the Black Sea “at this time” but hinted some action was under consideration.