Russia and China dispatched a combined naval force near the coast of Alaska last week, marking a historical first in the face of rising global tensions. The US responded by sending four destroyers to monitor the situation as a result according to The Wall Street Journal.
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, were shadowed by four U.S. destroyers and P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
Brent Sadler, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a retired Navy captain, described the move as “highly provocative.” He stated, “Given the context of the war in Ukraine and tensions around Taiwan, this move is highly provocative.”
This sentiment echoes the concerns of many international observers who see this joint naval patrol as a clear signal of Russia and China’s willingness to challenge the United States’ dominance in the region.
International waters, also known as the high seas, begin 12 nautical miles from the coast of any country and are open to all states, whether coastal or landlocked. “But to see these combatants form up in a surface action group together and steam together, that’s what’s rare,” according to Rear Adm. Nathan Moore, who was Coast Guard commander for the Alaska region until last month.
The U.S. Northern Command confirmed the joint naval patrol by Russia and China near Alaska but did not 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.
The Russian Defense Ministry stated that the joint patrol had covered more than 2,300 nautical miles, including operations in the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington clarified that the patrol was not aimed at Washington. The embassy stated, “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.”
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder stated, “At no point in time were they deemed to pose a threat. And so like any country, they are free to conduct exercises in international airspace, international waters.”
Alaska’s senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, spoke out against the exercise in statements while reiterating their call for more military funding for their state. They emphasized the strategic importance of Alaska in U.S. national defense and called for a stronger military presence in the region to counter potential threats.
The joint Russian and Chinese naval patrols are part of a broader great power competition in the Arctic and northern climes, which is increasingly becoming contested territory.