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US warship challenges Russia claims in Sea of Japan

CNN logo CNN 12/5/2018 By Ryan Browne, CNN
160204-N-ZZ786-078 VISAKHAPATNAM, India (Feb. 4, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) mans the rails at anchorage during India's International Fleet Review (IFR) 2016. IFR 2016 is an international military exercise hosted by the Indian Navy to help enhance mutual trust and confidence with navies from around the world. McCampbell, forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Flewellyn/Released) © MC3 David Flewellyn/USS Antietam 160204-N-ZZ786-078 VISAKHAPATNAM, India (Feb. 4, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) mans the rails at anchorage during India's International Fleet Review (IFR) 2016. IFR 2016 is an international military exercise hosted by the Indian Navy to help enhance mutual trust and confidence with navies from around the world. McCampbell, forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Flewellyn/Released)

The US Navy sailed the guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell near contested waters in the Sea of Japan Wednesday, an action that is bound to irk Russia.

The USS "McCampbell sailed in the vicinity of Peter the Great Bay to challenge Russia's excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the United States and other Nations," US Navy Lt. Rachel McMarr, a spokesperson for the US Pacific Fleet, told CNN in a statement.

The US warship conducted what the Navy refers to as a "Freedom of Navigation Operation."

A US Navy official told CNN that the US does not recognize Russia's claims on the waters, saying that Moscow lays claim to areas that far exceed the 12 miles from the Russian coastline that is guaranteed by international law.

Heightened tensions

Peter the Great Bay is the largest gulf in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, and home both to the Russian city of Vladivostok and the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet.

The freedom of navigation exercise comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow on a range of issues.

On Tuesday, all 29 NATO members accused Russia of violating the Cold War era Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by deploying a missile that could reach most of Europe.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo subsequently announced that the US would begin the process of withdrawing from the treaty in 60 days should Russia not come back into compliance.

Tensions have also been raised over Moscow's actions in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, where it fired up three Ukrainian vessels and then detained Ukrainian sailors.

'Not about any one country'

McMarr said the freedom of navigation operations are "not about any one country, nor are they about current events."

US officials say such operations are meant to enforce the right of free passage in international waters and to challenge excessive claims.

"These operations demonstrate the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," McMarr said. "That is true in the Sea of Japan, as in other places around the globe."

While the US Navy conducts such freedom of navigation operations all over the world, they come under increased scrutiny when they are aimed at contesting claims made by Russia and China.

Last week, the US Navy sailed the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville near contested islands in the South China Sea, an operation that drew an immediate diplomatic protest from Beijing.

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