U.S. Navy: Russian Warship’s ‘Unsafe’ Move Nearly Caused Collision With Cruiser

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Updated at 12:05 p.m. ET

The U.S. Navy says "unsafe and unprofessional" maneuvers by a Russian destroyer nearly caused it to collide with a U.S. missile cruiser in the Philippine Sea on Friday. The Russian warship came within 50 to 100 feet of the USS Chancellorsville, which was busy recovering a helicopter, and the American ship had to take drastic action to avoid the other vessel, the Navy says.

Russia's military, however, provided a different version of events and said the U.S. ship was at fault.

The U.S. 7th Fleet said the Russian ship, which has been identified as the Admiral Vinogradov anti-submarine destroyer, "maneuvered from behind and to the right of Chancellorsville, accelerated and closed to an unsafe distance."

"This unsafe action forced USS Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision," according to a statement from the 7th Fleet.

Videos show the ships nearing each another on adjacent courses, operating under clear conditions and calm seas.

Shortly before the near-collision, the U.S. ship had been on "a steady course and speed," the 7th Fleet says.

But Russia's military says the two vessels were "heading in parallel directions" when the U.S. ship "impeded" its warship, state media Tass reported.

"The US cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed its course and crossed the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer's course some 50 meters away from the ship. In order to prevent a collision, the Admiral Vinogradov's crew was forced to conduct an emergency maneuver," the Russian Pacific Fleet's press service said, according to Tass.

The close call happened about 11:45 a.m. local time Friday near the Philippines, the U.S. Navy says. The service initially tweeted out two videos of the close encounter, but those tweets were deleted. After the videos surfaced anyway, the service posted them again.

The videos show the vessels were close enough that their sailors could see each other from their decks. In an odd sight, several Russian service members seemed to be sunbathing on an aft platform aboard the destroyer as it neared the American warship.

The near-collision comes two years after two other warships in the 7th Fleet — the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain — were involved in high-profile accidents. In those cases, the Navy vessels collided with cargo ships, and the military said it would address staffing and other issues that may have played a role.

Describing what could be a return to the "cat-and-mouse games" that marked Russian and U.S. military interactions during the Cold War, NPR's Tom Bowman notes that Friday's incident comes on the heels of another close encounter. Earlier this week, a Russian fighter jet intercepted a U.S. Navy aircraft three times while they were in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea.

"The Navy said that one of the interactions, the second one, was deemed to be unsafe," Bowman says, "because the Russian SU-35 passed at high speed, directly in front of a U.S. Poseidon plane."

"Is this going to become a trend?" Bowman asks. "Is this something new? At this point, we don't know."

The 7th Fleet says it considers the actions by Russia's navy on Friday to be unsafe and in violation of the internationally recognized "rules of the road" and other maritime standards.

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