Russia, China Send Warships Near Alaska; U.S. Responds with Navy Destroyers

Alaska’s two U.S. senators said eleven military vessels from Russia and China, four operating near the Aleutian Islands last week, were met by four U.S. Navy destroyers.

Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan issued a joint news release Saturday evening saying they had been briefed about the operation.

“We have been in close contact with leadership from Alaska Command for several days now and received detailed classified briefings about the foreign vessels,” said Murkowski.

“The incursion by 11 Chinese and Russian warships operating together — off the coast of Alaska — is yet another reminder that we have entered a new era of authoritarian aggression led by the dictators in Beijing and Moscow,” said Sullivan.

China-Taiwan tensions and the war in Ukraine have strained U.S. relations with the two countries. “This move is highly provocative,” said retired Navy captain and senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Brett Sadler told the Wall Street Journal.

Although the statement from the senators suggested vessels were passing through U.S. waters, the Northern Command told the Journal the combined force didn’t appear to enter U.S. territory. “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,” it said in a statement.

This is at least the third consecutive year Chinese naval ships have sailed near or in waters off the Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. A similar joint exercise happened last year.

In September 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that during a routine patrol of the Bering Sea, the crew of the cutter Kimball encountered a People’s Republic of China guided missile cruiser off the coast of Alaska’s Kiska Island. The crew later identified four Russian naval vessels and two additional Chinese naval ships, including a destroyer.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Nathan Moore said the formation was operating in accordance with international norms and rules but would be met “presence-with-presence to ensure there are no disruptions to U.S. interests in the maritime environment around Alaska.”

In September 2021, Coast Guard cutters in the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea encountered Chinese ships, some around 50 miles off the Aleutians, according to the Associated Press.

Navy response to the recent incident “sends a strong message”

Last summer’s response was “tepid,” according to Sullivan. He said he had “encouraged senior military leaders to be ready with a much more robust response should another joint Chinese/Russian naval operation occur off our coast.”

Sullivan noted he was encouraged by the Navy’s response this year, adding it “sends a strong message to Xi Jinping and Putin that the United States will not hesitate to protect and defend our vital national interests in Alaska.”

Murkowski said the incident is “a stark reminder of Alaska’s proximity to both China and Russia, as well as the essential role our state plays in our national defense and territorial sovereignty.”

The Navy and others have been concerned about increased military activity in the Arctic region for several decades, given the warmer climate and more open water due to melted sea ice.

The incident last summer occurred around a month after NATO had warned about China’s interest in the Arctic and Russia’s military buildup there. The Associated Press reported that Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said Russia had set up a new Arctic command and opened former and new Arctic military sites.

Five Chinese naval ships also sailed through U.S. territorial waters off Alaska in 2015 while participating in a joint exercise with Russia.