Russia claimed one of its warships on Friday forced a U.S. Navy destroyer to abandon what it said was an attempt to intrude into its territorial waters in the Sea of Japan.
Video released by the Russian ministry of defense appears to show the moment its anti-submarine vessel Admiral Tributs closed to within 60 yards of the U.S. destroyer USS Chafee in Peter the Great Gulf, to the south of Vladivostok.
But the account was disputed by the U.S. Navy which said the Russian statement was ‘false’ and that the interaction was ‘safe and professional.’
The incident came while Russia and China conducted joint naval drills in the area, and is the latest in a series of close encounters between Russian and Western warships.
Relations between Russia and the U.S. are at their lowest point since the Cold War.
The Russian defense ministry said the Admiral Tributs radioed a warning to the billion-dollar USS Chafee to say she was ‘in an area closed to navigation due to exercises with artillery fire.’
The U.S. destroyer failed to change course and instead raised flags indicating it was preparing to launch a helicopter from its deck, meaning it was unable to change course and speed, the ministry said.
Pictured in this video screen grab is the guided missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90), which has been deployed in the Sea of Japan, near Russia’s territorial waters, for a few days
The USS Chafee responded to requests to change course by raising flags indicating it was about to launch a helicopter, according to the Russian defense ministry
The Russian destroyer Admiral Tributs pictured in Zolotoy Rog, or the Golden Horn Bay, during a parade in the Sea of Japan
The episode happened south of Vlodivostok in the western portion of the Sea of Japan known as Peter the Great Bay
‘Acting within the framework of the international rules of navigation, the Admiral Tributs set a course for ousting the intruder from Russian territorial waters,’ it said.
USS Chafee changed course when the two ships were less than 65 yards apart.
It said the episode lasted less than 50 minutes and denounced what it said was U.S. ‘crude violation’ of rules on averting ships collisions.
But a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet contradicted the Russian account.
‘The statement from the Russian Defense Ministry about the interaction between our two Navy ships is false,’ he said.
The USS Chafee was conducting routine operations in international water when a Russian destroyer came to within 65 yards of the U.S. warship while it was preparing for flight operations.
‘The interaction was safe and professional,’ he said.
‘Although Russia issued a Notice to Airman and Mariners (NOTAM/NOTMAR) in this area for later in the day, the NOTAM/NOTMAR was not in effect at the time of the interaction.
‘At all times, USS Chafee conducted operations in accordance with international law and custom. The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate where international law allows.’
Either way the diplomatic fallout was swift. The RIA news agency reported that the defense ministry summoned the U.S. military attache in response.
The attache was told about ‘unprofessional actions’ of the crew of the Chafee, said the report.
The Sea of Japan is not an area that frequent naval skirmishes, unlike the South China Sea where a network of territorial disputes between Beijing and Pacific nations has caused recent tension.
However, North Korea and South Korea have both objected to the name, preferring the ‘East Sea’ or ‘Korean East Sea.’
The USS Chafee is an Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyer, and was commissioned in 2003. At 500ft and capable of carrying more than 90 missiles they were more heavily armed than previous generations of destroyer, but have since been superseded by the Zumwalt class.
The Sea of Japan episode is the second time in four months Russia has said it chased a NATO-member warship from its waters.
In June, Russia accused a British destroyer, the Defender, of breaching its territorial waters in the Black Sea, and said it had forced the ship away with warning shots and dropped bombs in its path.
Britain rejected Moscow’s account of the incident, which took place off Crimea, part of Ukraine which Russia annexed in 2014 in a move not recognised internationally. London said at the time its ship was operating lawfully in Ukrainian waters.
The USS Chafee pictured arriving in Hong Kong. She is an Arleigh Burke- class guided missile destroyer and is part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group
That triggered a warning from a senior Moscow security official that Britain should avoid any repeat.
Mikhail Popov, deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said: ‘Similar actions will be thwarted with the harshest methods in future by Russia regardless of the violator’s state allegiance.
‘We suggest our opponents think hard about whether it’s worth organizing such provocations given the capabilities of Russia’s armed forces.
Earlier on Friday, Russia said it had held joint naval drills with China in the Sea of Japan and practised how to operate together and destroy floating enemy mines with artillery fire.
The war games are part of naval cooperation drills which run from Oct. 14 to 17 and involve warships and support vessels from Russia’s Pacific Fleet, including mine-sweepers and a submarine.
Moscow and Beijing have cultivated closer military and diplomatic ties in recent years at a time when their relations with the West have soured.
Relations between Russia and the U.S. are at their lowest point since the Cold War, although President Vladimir Putin said this week he had established a solid relationship with his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden and saw potential for ties to improve.