US destroyer sails near Russia-claimed waters in Sea of Japan

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailed near waters claimed by Russia in the Sea of Japan on Wednesday, a move bound to rankle Moscow.

"On Dec. 5 (local time), guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the Sea of Japan,” Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Rachel McMarr said in a statement.

“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.”

CNN first reported the operation.


Peter the Great Gulf — the largest in the Sea of Japan — is home to the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet. The United States considers Russia’s claim to the waters excessive because it extends more than the 12 nautical miles from the land allowed by international law.

“U.S. Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis,” McMarr said. “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.”

In her statement, McMarr stressed that freedom of navigation operations “are not about any one country, nor are they about current events.”

But Wednesday’s operation comes amid several recent developments that have ratcheted up U.S.-Russia tensions.

Late last month, Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian navy ships in the Kerch Strait. The incident prompted President TrumpDonald TrumpMaria Bartiromo defends reporting: 'Keep trashing me, I'll keep telling the truth' The Memo: The center strikes back Republicans eye Nashville crack-up to gain House seat MORE to cancel his planned formal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during this past weekend’s Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

And on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE gave Russia 60 days to come back into compliance with a landmark arms control treaty, warning the United States would follow through with abandoning the treaty if it doesn't. NATO’s foreign ministers also released a statement formally concluding Russia to be in material breach of the treaty.

Russia denies it has violated the accord, known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. On Wednesday, Putin responded to Pompeo by saying his country will build treaty-banned missiles if the United States does.

The U.S. military conducts freedom of navigation operations throughout the world, typically drawing the most headlines when the operations challenge China’s maritime claims. Last week, another U.S. guided-missile destroyer, the USS Chancellorsville, sailed near contested islands in the South China Sea, drawing a formal diplomatic protest from Beijing.