Russian Navy Warships Come Within Two Dozen Miles of Hawaii

Russian navy vessels closed in on the coast of Hawaii in a provocative move by Moscow during its largest military exercises in the region since the end of the Cold War.

Although the Russian ships did not enter U.S. territorial waters, Navy Captain Mike Kafka, spokesperson for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said they had got within "approximately 20 to 30 nautical miles (23 to 34 statute miles) off the coast of Hawaii."

"We closely tracked all vessels," he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, adding that the vessels were "transiting west" and had departed the area.

However, a Russian spy ship remains in the Hawaii operating area, according to a variety of sources, the Star-Advertiser reported.

The Russian ships' proximity to the U.S. is at odds with a statement issued by the Kremlin's Ministry of Defense on Monday, which said vessels from its Pacific fleet had been conducting major exercises around 2,500 miles southeast of the Kuril Islands. This would put them between 300 and 500 miles off the coast of Hawaii.

United States aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, pictured here in 2018, was deployed to Hawaii this month during Russian drills in the Pacific. Getty

Kafka did not confirm which Russian vessels had been in the area, but the Ministry of Defense statement had said the Pacific fleet flagship Varyag, the destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov and four corvettes were taking part in the drills.

The U.S. Navy spokesperson also declined to comment on whether any warnings had been issued to Russian vessels in the region, saying, "I am not going to get into our tactic and procedures," according to The Drive. "I can say that we operate in accordance with international law and expect Russia to do the same."

"U.S. military forces are present and active in and around the Western Pacific on a daily basis in support of the homeland and to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific," he added.

Last week, ahead of the Geneva summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, Moscow said the Pacific exercises would include surface ships, anti-submarine aircraft and long-range bombers.

As the exercises took place, the U.S. scrambled F-22 raptors on Sunday from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in response to Russian bomber flights. The Russian aircraft did not enter the Air Defense Identification Zone, CBS News reported.

In addition, the San Diego-based aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, which supports newer F-35C stealth fighters, arrived in the Hawaiian Islands for drills that coincided with a Russian auxiliary general intelligence, or AGI, surveillance ship shifting to international waters north of Oahu, the Star-Advertiser reported.

Retired Navy Capt. Carl Schuster, former director of operations at U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center, told the newspaper: "I'll bet money that AGI is monitoring the Vinson."

Last month, the U.S. Pacific fleet tracked the AGI ship Kareliya, which had been operating off the coast of Kauai near the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands. The site is used to test-fire missiles.

The latest exercises come amid tensions between Russia and the U.S. over military maneuvers. In April, Lt. Gen. David Krumm, head of U.S. Northern Command's Alaska branch, said there had been record numbers of Russian aircraft intercepts off the U.S. West Coast in 2020, which had strained U.S. units.

Newsweek has contacted U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and Russia's Ministry of Defense for comment.