Matthew Bodner, NBC News
MOSCOW — A Russian warship chased a U.S. Navy destroyer from waters in the Sea of Japan, known in South Korea as the East Sea, on Tuesday, Russia’s military said — the latest in a string of close contacts between Russian and American forces across the globe.
U.S. military officials responded by saying that the destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, had been conducting a “freedom of navigation” operation in Peter the Great Bay — the largest bay in the sea. The United States and Russia have long disagreed about Moscow’s claim over the area.
Russian officials said in a statement that the American destroyer sailed 2 kms (about 1.2 miles) past its maritime border at around 6 a.m. (10 p.m. ET Monday), before being pursued by a Russian vessel — the Admiral Vinogradov.
“The Admiral Vinogradov […] warned the foreign ship through an international communications channel about the inadmissibility of such actions and the possibility of using a ramming maneuver,” according to the statement.
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The McCain then changed course and left the area after the Vinogradov turned toward the U.S. destroyer, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
The U.S. 7th Fleet issued a statement that said the McCain had operated in accordance with international law, and that Russia had in 1984 illegally claimed the area as “internal waters.”
The boundary claimed by Russia is “inconsistent with the rules of international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention to enclose the waters of a bay,” according to the U.S. statement.
International maritime boundaries are typically recognized a certain distance offshore. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union claimed a large portion of the Peter the Great Gulf — which Americans refer to as a bay — beyond these traditional boundaries. The U.S. and its allies reject this claim.
The 7th Fleet said that McCain’s operation was intended to demonstrate that these waters are not Russia’s territory.
The Russian Defense Ministry statement added that the Vinogradov continues to monitor the McCain’s movements.
In August, the U.S. said that several American troops were injured when U.S. and Russian vehicles collided in Syria. Both sides blamed the other for the incident. Videos published on Russian social media accounts appeared to show Russian vehicles attempting to drive the U.S. vehicles off the road.
In May, U.S. ships entered the Barents Sea — recognized as international waters but traditional stomping grounds of Russia’s Northern Fleet — on what the U.S. Navy described as the first operation asserting freedom of navigation in the region since the Cold War.
Reuters contributed to this report.