US, Russia Trade Blame After Warships Nearly Collide in East China Sea

Ships passed within 50 meters of one another

When US and Russian warships run afoul of one another in international waters, it is very common for one side or the other to blame the other ship for behaving unprofessionally. On Friday, the US and Russia are both blaming one another for such an incident.

The incident took place in the East China Sea, at around 11:45 am. The USS Chancellorsville, a US guided-missile cruiser and the Admiral Vinogradov, an anti-submarine destroyer, were sailing alongside one another. Suddenly, the US cruiser changed direction and cut across the course of the Russian destroyer, forcing the Russian ship to make an emergency maneuver to avoid a collision.

Exactly who is to blame at that point seems to be a matter of opinion. The two ships got within 50 meters of one another in the course of all this. Russian officials accused the US Navy of “hooliganism” for cutting them off as it did, while the US Navy claimed Russia’s ship made an “unsafe maneuver” when it apparently cut to try to avoid a collision.

The two ships were certainly worryingly close to one another, per videos released by the US Navy, and accusing Russia of doing something unsafe is in keeping with US policy, so it makes sense that’s what the narrative coming out of the Pentagon is.

Yet it certainly does seem that the US warship earned at least some of the blame for what almost happened. It’s not clear why the two ships were so close in the first place, but even given the destroyer’s superior maneuverability, the US ship plainly shouldn’t have changed course to cut across their existing path.

The USS Chancellorsville is part of the US 7th Fleet, which has had more than its share of difficulties at sea in recent years, with US cruisers running aground or smacking into civilian ships, sometimes with deadly results. It was certainly fortunate that today’s incident did not end that way, as it could have grave consequences for US-Russia relations.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.