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    In this image released by the US Navy on June 7, 2019, the Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Vinogradov (L) sails close to the USS Chancellorsville

    ‘Deadly Serious’: Near-Misses Between US, Russian Ships No Accident, and No Joke

    © AFP 2019 / CHRISTOPHER J KRUCKE
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    Provocations between US and Russians warships, similar to the incident that occurred Friday in the East China Sea, are extremely dangerous but all too common ‒ and any one could lead to disaster, Mark Sleboda, an international affairs and security analyst, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear.

    On Friday, the US Navy released a video of the near-collision between Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov and US Navy cruiser USS Chancellorsville in the East China Sea. The Russian Pacific Fleet responded with a statement that the US ship had suddenly changed course and crossed the path of the Russian destroyer “just 50 meters away from the ship.” The US Seventh Fleet denied Russia’s version of events, blaming the Russian vessel for nearly causing a collision.

    ​"While USS Chancellorsville was recovering its helicopter on a steady course and speed when the Russian ship DD572 maneuvered from behind and to the right of Chancellorsville accelerated and closed to an unsafe distance of approximately 50-100 feet. This unsafe action forced USS Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision,” the Seventh Fleet’s statement reads.

    Sleboda explained to host Brian Becker that “the US is regularly doing naval parades in the East China Sea and the South China Sea in what they refer to as freedom of navigation exercises.” 

    Freedom of navigation is codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea among articles that define the rights and responsibilities of nations regarding the use of the world’s oceans and marine natural resources. The convention has been in effect since 1994 and currently has more than 165 participating countries. According to the US State Department, it has been “US policy since 1983 that the US will exercise and assert its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis in a manner that is consistent with the balance of interests reflected in the Law of the Sea convention.”

    “And we see here, such exercises can have nearly disastrous results,” Sleboda told Sputnik. “There’s a 45-second video released by the US Navy of the incident, and it basically looks like the Russian and US navies are playing chicken with each other in the East China Sea, both blaming each other. Unless they are doing a supply exchange between two ships, there is absolutely no reason for two warships to be so close to each other that a collision is a real possibility. And this follows another incident, just a few days ago, in Syria.”

    According to the US Sixth Fleet, a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft off the coast of Syria was intercepted three times by a Russian Su-35 jet fighter Tuesday. However, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, its aircraft stayed a safe distance from the US plane, which it claims had been approaching Russia’s Tartus naval facility on the Syrian coast, Reuters reported. 

    “This is a deadly serious security matter,” Sleboda told Sputnik, also noting that such provocations between the two countries have frequently occurred not just off the coast of Syria, but also in the Baltics in the Black Sea, the East China China and the South China Sea.

    “It’s provoking. Intercepts of Russian planes by US and US planes by the Russians — these usually involve spy planes, military exercises. As far as we can tell, neither ship [in the Friday incident] was engaged in any kind of military exercise that might explain it. This was simply the two ships having some kind of macho contest supposedly with the permission of higher up military, if not political leaders, in both countries. As always, with all such incidents, whether we are talking about air or at sea, there is always a room for accidents, unexplained things happening. And what happens, inevitably, if they continue increasing, escalating the way they are in terms of frequency and scope, US or Russian forces on either side die as a result and the other country is responsible. Where does that bring us with the two largest nuclear armed powers on the planet? It’s not a good situation,” Sleboda said.

    The accident reflects a deterioration in US Navy training, he suggested. 

    “First of all, this incident happening in broad daylight with two ships from opposite countries — this is not an accident. This was a deliberate provocation by one side or the other or even both. The US Navy in … recent years has a repeated history of collisions … which really reflect a broader erosion of US training and discipline as the US military is basically facing imperial overstretch of being deployed in far too many places, with over 1,000 military bases scattered around the world, far too many forces spread too thin, doing too much … That is exactly why such incidences should be avoided whatever the game of geopolitical brinkmanship. Such military provocations can only lead to disaster,” Sleboda explained.

    “For a couple of years now, at least every month, if not every two weeks, we are having an intercept of one country’s military forces or the other’s in the Black Sea and off the coast of Syria. These confrontational Cold War revived instances are extremely common now,” Sleboda noted.

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    East China Sea, warship, military, Russia, United States
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