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US destroyer conducts freedom-of-navigation operation near Russia amid heightened tensions

Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) prepare to take on fuel as the ship approaches the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson (T-AO-194) for a replenishment at sea; 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Declan Barnes/Released)

The USS McCampbell sailed near contested waters claimed by Russia during a freedom-of-navigation operation in the Sea of Japan on Wednesday, according to news reports.

The Yokosuka-based guided-missile destroyer challenged Russia’s maritime claims by sailing in the vicinity of Peter the Great Bay, the largest gulf in the Sea of Japan and home to Vladivostok, port for the Russian navy’s Pacific Fleet, according to CNN and U.S. Naval Institute News.

The purpose of the operation was to uphold the rights, freedom and lawful uses of the sea for the United States and other nations, said a statement by U.S. Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr.

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

The freedom-of-navigation operation comes amid increased tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Russia on Tuesday was accused by all 29 NATO members of violating the Cold War-era Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by deploying a missile that could reach Europe, CNN reported. The purported treaty violation prompted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to announce the withdrawal from the treaty in 60 days if Russia does not comply.

Russia also recently denied three Ukrainian naval ships access to Mariupol, a Ukrainian port in the Sea of Azov, by blocking the Kerch Strait with a tanker, according to The Guardian. The Russian ships opened fire on the Ukrainian vessels, injuring six crew members before seizing the crew and ships.

“We conduct routine and regular freedom of navigation operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” McMarr said. “[Freedom of navigation operations] are not about any one country, nor are they about current events. All freedom-of-navigation assertions are grounded in principle and the rule of law.”


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