Russian warships threaten US boats off the coast of Alaska

We’ve seen this kind of thing from Iran before in the Persian Gulf but now Russia seems to be escalating things in the North Pacific. The NY Times reports on a series of actions threatening US commercial boats that are well within the exclusive US commercial zone.

The crew of the Bristol Leader was laying out its long cod-catching line well within U.S. fishing territory in the Bering Sea when a voice crackled over the VHF radio and began issuing commands: The ship was in danger, it said, and needed to move.

The warnings, coming in a mixture of Russian and accented English from a plane buzzing overhead, grew more specific and more urgent. There was a submarine nearby, the voice said. Missiles were being fired. Leave the area…

US territorial waters extend 12 miles from the shores of Alaska but the exclusive economic zone extends up to 200 miles from the shore. That’s where the fishing boats were when Russian planes and warships began to harass them:

Tim Thomas, a U.S. captain on the fishing vessel Northern Jaeger, encountered the Russian activities on Aug. 26 when his ship was operating more than 20 nautical miles inside the U.S. economic zone. After a Russian plane directed Captain Thomas to take his boat out of the area, he said, he responded that he was within the U.S. zone, not on the Russian side, and that the Russians could not order them to leave.

At that point, he said, a Russian military ship joined in and issued similar orders.

“At this point, I’m going, ‘What’s going on here? Are we getting invaded?’” Captain Thomas said in an interview…

The Russians, who were running a military exercise known as Ocean Shield that involved some 50 warships and 40 aircraft operating throughout the Bering Sea, were adamant, and their warnings grew more intense. U.S. officials have since said that a Russian submarine launched a cruise missile from the Bering Sea that day.

And the increased activity isn’t limited to the sea. US jets have intercepted Russian bombers 14 times this year. The most recent incident was three weeks ago and involved two Russian bombers and two fighter jets that came withing 35 miles of Alaska:

U.S. fighter jets intercepted four Russian military aircraft in international airspace near Alaska on Monday, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said. The Russian planes came within 35 miles of Alaska’s shores but didn’t enter U.S. or Canadian airspace during the encounter.

The American F-22 fighters intercepted two Russian bombers, which were escorted by two Su-35 fighter jets, NORAD said in a statement. The Russian planes were supported by an airborne early warning aircraft.

Senator Dan Sullivan who just won re-election in Alaska told the Times, “I think they were testing us — flexing their military muscle.”

This is obviously a worrisome trend, similar to the kind of thing China has been doing in the South China Sea. There are a couple of videos showing the messages received by the US boats. You’ll have to click here for those.

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