Russia Warship Threatened to Ram U.S. Destroyer, Claiming Violation of Its Border

Russia has accused the U.S. of violating its territorial waters and said an anti-submarine destroyer from its Pacific Fleet had to chase away an American warship in the latest in tit-for-tat tensions between the countries.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that USS John S. McCain, which had entered the Sea of Japan (East Sea) several days prior, had breached its maritime border by just over a mile in the Peter the Great Gulf on Tuesday.

The ministry said in a statement that the crew on the Admiral Vinogradov then warned the U.S. vessel that "such actions were unacceptable" and threatened that it could be driven out of the waters "in a ramming maneuver," news agency Tass reported.

It said that after the warning was issued and the Admiral Vinogradov changed its course, the USS John S. McCain destroyer "returned to international waters."

The USS John McCain
USS John McCain, pictured near Manila in 2014. Russia has claimed that it breached its territorial waters in the country's far east. TED ALJIBE/Getty Images

In a statement, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said that USS John S. McCain had simply "asserted navigational rights and freedoms," which it added were recognized in international law "by challenging Russia's excessive maritime claims."

It referred to how in 1984, before the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow had claimed straight baselines along its coasts as internal waters, including one that enclosed Peter the Great Bay. It said that this meant Moscow had claimed more territorial waters than it was entitled to.

"This 106-nautical-mile closing line is inconsistent with the rules of international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention to enclose the waters of a bay," the statement said.

"By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are not Russia's territorial sea and that the United States does not acquiesce in Russia's claim that Peter the Great is a 'historic bay' under international law."

Such spats, although relatively routine, are increasing in number between Russia and NATO allies.

"For Russia, they vindicate the 'besieged fortress' narrative that 'NATO forces are out there to get us.' For NATO, they further the perception that Russia only has hostile intentions and cannot be trusted," said Mathieu Boulègue, research fellow on the Russia and Eurasia Programme at London's Chatham House think tank.

"This has two consequences. First, more competition around potentially contested environments. At sea, freedom of navigation is increasingly harder to ensure, and is no longer a given. The North Atlantic and the North Pacific are becoming areas of tension.

"Second, this is increasing the level of miscalculation and tactical errors. With the risk of, come what may and an accident happens, sleepwalking into a spiral of confrontation," he told Newsweek.

On the other side of Russia, Moscow's Black Sea Fleet tracked the American destroyer Donald Cook on Monday in what Izvestia reported was the seventh time in a year that American ships had been sent to the region.