U.S. Sends Naval Ship to Sea of Japan, Challenges Russia's Territorial Claims
USS McCampbell seen escorting a foreign vessel (Photo: Facebook, US Navy)

After carrying out multiple ‘freedom of navigation’ operations in waters contested by China, the U.S. has now sent a destroyer in to the contested waters in the Sea of Japan.

The US Navy said in a statement that  USS McCampbell, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer operating from the U.S. Naval Base of Yokosuka in Japan sailed in the vicinity of Peter the Great Bay “to challenge Russia's excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the United States and other Nations."

The US Navy called its sailing a “freedom of navigation” operation as it said Russia’s claims far exceed the 12 nautical miles from the Russian coastline that is guaranteed under international maritime law. Under this law, any country' maritime rights extend only 12 nautical miles from shore. Peter the Great Bay stretches farther than that from parts of the Russian coast, but Moscow claims the entire bay as its own. Peter the Great Bay is the largest gulf in the Sea of Japan, also referred to as the East Sea by the Koreas, and home to the Russian’s far-east city of Vladivostok and the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet.

This was the first time the U.S. has conducted a freedom of navigation operation in that area since 1987, when the Soviet Union was the government making those claims.

This development comes after the heightened tensions between NATO and Russia as the U.S. revealed it had intelligence evidence that Russia's new SSC-8 ground-fired cruise missile could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo subsequently announced that the US would begin the process of withdrawing from the Cold War nuclear treaty in 60 days should Russia not come back into compliance.

Russia has rejected this charge with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying the accusation is a pretext for the U.S. to leave the nuclear pact. In televised comments, the Russian leader said, "Now it seems our American partners believe that the situation has changed so much that [they] must also have such a weapon," he said.

"What's our response? It's simple - in that case we will also do this."

The U.S. Navy is also preparing to send a warship into the Black Sea for the first time in a month to provide support to Ukraine after a naval skirmish with Russia.