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U.S. destroyer challenges Russian claims in the Sea of Japan

The Navy sent the USS McCampbell near Peter the Great Bay as the United States and Russia are clashing over a variety of issues.
IMAGE: USS McCampbell
The USS McCampbell in Tokyo Bay on May 14.Garrett Zopfi/U.S. Navy / via FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs Office

The Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer into Russian-claimed waters in the Sea of Japan in what it called a "freedom of navigation" operation on Wednesday.

The operation comes as the United States and Russia are clashing over a variety of issues, including U.S. accusations that Russia has violated terms of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, and U.S. complaints over recent Russian operations near Ukraine.

The Navy said in a statement that the USS McCampbell, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer operating from U.S. Naval Base Yokosuka in Japan, sailed near 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."

Under international maritime law, nations' territorial rights extend only 12 miles from shore. Peter the Great Bay stretches farther than that from parts of the Russian coast, but Moscow claims the entire bay as its own, anyway.

The Defense Department regularly conducts such "freedom of navigation" exercises, but it usually does so in the South China Sea in challenges to claims by China.

Just last week, the United States sent the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea to similarly challenge China's "excessive maritime claims," the Navy said.

The operation on Wednesday follows Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement on Tuesday that the U.S. would pull out of the INF treaty unless Russia addresses what he called Moscow's "flagrant disregard" of its terms.

A spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry said Russia "scrupulously abides by the provisions of the treaty, and the U.S. side knows this."

The United States has also objected to Russia's seizing of three Ukrainian vessels it accused of having trespassed on Russian waters in the Black Sea last month.

Citing the Black Sea dispute, President Donald Trump last week canceled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A spokesman for Putin said in response that a hoped-for U.S.-Russia summit in Washington "is now out of the question."