Russia’s Pacific Fleet conducted wide-ranging naval manoeuvres in the Bering Sea on Thursday and Friday of this week, in international waters off the Alaskan coast, during which the Omsk nuclear submarine and the Varyag missile cruiser launched cruise missiles at a practice target in the Bering Sea.
Russia’s Defence Ministry announced Thursday that its nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Omsk and missile cruiser Varyag fired at targets in the Bering Sea as part of its ‘Ocean Shield 2020’ drills. The military games took place in the Bering Sea and involved over 50 warships and around 40 aircraft.
The significant size and location of the military exercises are intended to send a clear message to Washington, taking place in a region which over the past year has seen US air force jets scrambled on numerous occasions to intercept Russian long-range bombers as they were approaching US airspace off Alaska’s coast.
The US has held an unusually high number of large-scale naval, army and air force exercises in close proximity to Russia’s borders from the Baltic to the Black Sea this year. Russia appears have organized the drills in response to the quantity and scale of NATO drills held in close proximity to Russian territory.
“We are holding such massive drills there for the first time ever,” Russia’s navy chief, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov said in an official statement.
The military drills also involved firing Onyx cruise missiles at a practice target in the Gulf of Anadyr from the coast of the Chukchi Peninsula.
The presence of Russian military assets in the area surprised US commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea on Wednesday.
“We were notified by multiple fishing vessels that were operating out the Bering Sea that they had come across these vessels and were concerned,” U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said Thursday.
The Coast Guard contacted the Alaskan Command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which confirmed the ships were there as part of a pre-planned Russian military exercise that was known to some U.S. military officials, he said.
As the exercise was ongoing, US military spotted a Russian submarine surfacing near Alaska on Thursday. US Northern Command spokesman Bill Lewis noted that the Russian military exercise is taking place in international waters, well outside U.S. territory. Lewis said the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command were closely monitoring the submarine.
Former chief of staff of the Russian navy, retired Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, said that by having the submarine surface in the area the navy may have wanted to send a deliberate signal.
“It’s a signal that we aren’t asleep and we are wherever we want,” RIA Novosti quoted Kravchenko as saying.
Russian state RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russia’s Pacific Fleet sources as saying that the surfacing of the Omsk nuclear submarine was routine.
Also late Thursday, NORAD sent F-22 fighter jets to intercept three groups of two Tu-142 Russian maritime patrol aircraft that were approaching US airspace off Alaska.
The Russian aircraft remained in the area for about five hours and came within 50 nautical miles of Alaska. Officials said the Russian aircraft remained in international air space, and at no time entered United States or Canadian sovereign air space.
“Our northern approaches have had an increase in foreign military activity as our competitors continue to expand their military presence and probe our defenses,” Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of NORAD, said in a statement. “This year, we’ve conducted more than a dozen intercepts, the most in recent years. The importance of our continued efforts to project air defense operations in and through the north has never been more apparent.” LINK
The US can expect more such exercises and manoeuvres if NATO’s war games along Russia’s borders continue, possibly with some Chinese participation.
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