Monday, June 1, 2015

Russia’s Anonymous Sources Try to Sink U.S. Destroyer

"USS Ross" conducting northbound transit of Turkish Straits – May 23, 2015
[credit: Yörük Işık]
Russian news outlets were overly active this weekend recycling and enhancing a story that originated from two anonymous sources who want you to believe that a U.S. destroyer operated in, or extremely close to, Russia’s territorial waters until it was chased away by fighter-bombers – all while the U.S. Secretary of Defense and Russian Deputy Minister of Defense were both in Singapore discussing security in the Asia-Pacific region.

The U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer “USS Ross” (DDG 71) entered the Black Sea on May 23 to “work closely with [U.S.] allies and partners to enhance maritime security, readiness, and naval capability, and to promote peace and stability in the region.” The U.S. destroyer is the latest in a long series of naval ships from the U.S. and other foreign nations to regularly operate in international waters in the Black Sea much to the dismay of Russia. Moscow considers naval operations by non-Black Sea littoral countries – more specifically by NATO countries – in the Black Sea to be provocative.

After completing drills with Romanian naval forces on May 28, the destroyer continued independent operations in the Black Sea, apparently in the vicinity of the Crimean Peninsula. On May 30, RIA Novosti (aka MIA Russia Today) published a news article in which an unnamed “source in a Crimean power structure” reported that Black Sea Fleet SU-24 Fencer fighter-bombers were scrambled and successfully “forced” the U.S. destroyer, which was operating in a “provocative and aggressive” manner, “to depart for neutral waters in the eastern portion of the Black Sea.”

As the source never said “USS Ross” was operating within Russia’s territorial waters, this story could be characterized as routine activity for the two nations’ navies as viewed by an excitable RIA Novosti anonymous source. But then the source loses all credibility when he says that the “Americans have not forgotten the incident in April 2014 when one SU-24 actually ‘shut down’ all of the instruments on the new American destroyer ‘USS Donald Cook’, which has ballistic missile defense elements.” Even the Russian Ministry of Defense had to chuckle at that version of the April event.

Seeing an opportunity to prove it’s still relevant,, masquerading as, published its own amazing details in an article titled ‘SU-24s Almost Sink NATO Destroyer in Black Sea’. According to its article, the U.S. destroyer was “lit up by a ‘Bastion’ system from a Black Sea Fleet missile ship.” That’s a mistake – Bastion is a coastal defense cruise missile, not a sea-based weapon. The article goes on to say, citing an unnamed “highly-placed” MOD source, that “USS Ross” was within 50 meters of the “border” – presumably Russia’s territorial waters.

What’s strange is that both anonymously-sourced reports would have you remember, but then forget, that one or more Russian naval ships, armed with guns and anti-ship cruise missiles, were trailing the U.S. destroyer at the time. This raises several obvious questions:

  • Why did the escorts not operate between Crimea and the destroyer to prevent the latter from entering or coming that close to Russian territorial waters?
  • Why were SU-24s scrambled to deal with the incursion? Where the escorts incapable of dealing with that mission?
  • Why would the destroyer even attempt such a dangerous undertaking knowing that the Crimean-based SSC-5 Stooge and SSC-6 Sennight coastal defense cruise missiles, as well as the escort ships and land-based fighter-bombers, could and likely would respond to an incursion?

If this incident occurred on Friday or Saturday, then it would have coincided with the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, which was attended by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoliy Antonov. And Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s introduction of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as governor of the Odessa region.

Did SU-24s fly near “USS Ross” as it operated in the Black Sea? Yes, as the U.S. 6th Fleet confirmed on Sunday. No official statement has yet been made by either side as to exactly when and where this activity occurred. The RF Ministry of Defense and Ministry for Foreign Affairs have been silent about the “incident” all weekend – probably because no serious “incident” actually occurred. The official websites for both agencies were open for business and publishing news over the weekend, but not a single mention of any "incident."

RF Ministry for Foreign Affairs silent on Black Sea "incident"

But “non-incidents” don’t sell newspapers, nor do they generate advertising money. So, expect both Russian and non-Russian media outlets alike to rehash the event on Monday as they bring in “experts” (with no reliable access to the details of the event) who will state unequivocally that Russia or the U.S. or NATO (depending on which country you’re in) is destabilizing regional security in the Black Sea. Expect flashy, nonsensical headlines, like “NATO-Russia Cold War Stand-Off in Black Sea” or “Did Putin Order Strike on U.S. Destroyer?”

It would be interesting to attend the next INCSEA [English] [Russian] talks to hear what either side has to say about the most recent event... if anything.