Russia Sends Navy Fleet Destroyers to Pacific in New Show of Strength

Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev, left, and Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, center, the deputy commander of Flotilla of Pacific Fleet of Russia, answer questions from the members of the media onboard the Russian Navy vessel Admiral Tributs, a large anti-submarine ship, docked at the south harbor port area in metro Manila, Philippines, on January 4. Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

Russia is sending two anti-submarine warships and a tanker to the Pacific Ocean in a show of strength around the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea, areas where tensions are already high due to ongoing disputes.

The Admiral Vinogradov and Admiral Panteleyev destroyers, as well as the Boris Butoma tanker, sailed from Russia's Vladivostok base and will call at nine foreign ports in the next four months, a naval spokesman told state news agency RIA Novosti on Monday.

According to the Russian Pacific Fleet's spokesman, Vladimir Matveev, "the main goal of the journey is showcasing the Andreevsky flag in the Asia Pacific Region and to further develop maritime cooperation with Asia Pacific countries." He did not specify which countries will host the Russian ships.

The Andreevsky flag is the ensign of the Russian Navy—a blue St. Andrew's cross on a white background. Matveev said the ships prepared for the trip with a combat readiness drill to check their ability to defend themselves should they encounter danger in the next few months. The destroyers trained warding off an aerial attack with missiles and artillery fire against both air and sea targets, at a training range in the Sea of Japan.

Russia military and naval capabilities have been focused mostly on the West. However, Moscow has increasingly appeared to seek to reinforce its post–Cold War capabilities in the Far East.

Russia's Pacific Fleet will be bolstered by the arrival of two new Varshavyanka-class diesel-powered submarines: The Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky will arrive first in late 2019, followed by the Volkhov. Since 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly spoken of a desire to rebuild Russia's trade and military presence in the Asia Pacific.

The Russian navy wrapped up a war game with China off the coast of Vladivostok last month, a year after staging a similar event in the South China Sea.