A combined Russian and Chinese naval force patrolled near the coast of Alaska last week in what U.S. experts said appeared to be the largest such flotilla to approach American shores.
Eleven Russian and Chinese ships steamed close to the Aleutian Islands, according to U.S. officials. The ships, which never entered U.S. territorial waters and have since left, were shadowed by four U.S. destroyers and P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
“It is a historical first,” said Brent Sadler, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a retired Navy captain. “Given the context of the war in Ukraine and tensions around Taiwan, this move is highly provocative.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Northern Command confirmed that Russia and China had carried out a combined naval patrol near Alaska, but didn’t specify the number of ships or their precise location.
“Air and maritime assets under our commands conducted operations to assure the defense of the United States and Canada. The patrol remained in international waters and was not considered a threat,” the command said.
Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the patrol was a reminder that the U.S. has entered “a new era of authoritarian aggression” and applauded the robust U.S. response.
The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said the patrol wasn’t aimed at Washington.
“According to the annual cooperation plan between the Chinese and Russian militaries, naval vessels of the two countries have recently conducted joint maritime patrols in relevant waters in the western and northern Pacific Ocean. This action is not targeted at any third party and has nothing to do with the current international and regional situation,” the Chinese Embassy spokesman, Liu Pengyu, said.
The USS John S. McCain, the USS Benfold, the USS John Finn and the USS Chung-Hoon responded to the flotilla, tracking its movement, a U.S. defense official said. The four destroyers were in addition to the American maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.