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US Navy ships in Barents Sea near Russia, 1st time since 1980s

Source:AFP Published: 2020/5/5 22:48:400

USS Theodore Roosevelt transits the Pacific Ocean on April 7, 2017. Photo: US Navy

The US Navy sent four ships this week to conduct Arctic security operations in the Barents Sea north of Russia for the first time in over three decades, the Pentagon said Monday.

The move came as US officials said rivals like China and Russia were increasingly testing US defense resolve with their own air and sea challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

The four vessels, along with a British Royal navy ship, conducted operations in the increasingly strategic Arctic region “to assert freedom of navigation and demonstrate seamless integration among allies,” The US Navy said in a statement.

The four US ships included three guided missile destroyers and a support ship, which were joined by a British frigate.

The Navy said US surface ships have not operated in the Barents Sea region since the mid-1980s, and said it was necessary to stay familiar with operating conditions there.

“In these challenging times, it is more important than ever that we maintain our steady drumbeat of operations across the European theater, while taking prudent measures to protect the health of our force,” said Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti. 

The Navy said Russia was forewarned of the exercises to avoid conflict.

The Barents operations followed last week’s “freedom of navigation” operations by the US navy in the South China Sea.

On April 28, a US warship entered the territorial waters off the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea without China’s permission. 

The Southern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army deployed air and navy forces to monitor and verify the ship, and warned it to leave, according to Senior Colonel Li Huamin, a spokesperson of the command.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Russian air force has  recently made multiple efforts to probe US airspace in the Arctic region and around Alaska.

In Asia, he said, the US military has stepped up its own activities, in the air, sea surface, and below the surface, to demonstrate the US presence and conduct surveillance.

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