Calm Prevails as Russian Warship Nears US Destroyers in Mediterranean

FILE -- In this photo taken on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, Russian Navy frigate Admiral Grigorovich launches a Kalibr cruise missile at a target in Syria from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/
FILE -- In this photo taken on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, Russian Navy frigate Admiral Grigorovich launches a Kalibr cruise missile at a target in Syria from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/

A Russian warship may be nearing two U.S. Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean, but so far interactions at sea have been strictly professional in the wake of the April 7 American airstrikes on a Syrian airfield.

Officials with U.S. European command told Military.com that they were aware that a Russian naval ship -- identified by Russian news agency TASS as the frigate Admiral Grigorovich -- had entered the Mediterranean, where the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Ross and Porter, which launched the missile strikes, are positioned. But they said so far, everything remains normal.

"We have not had any unsafe or unprofessional interactions with Russian units since the Tomahawk missile strikes were conducted on April 7, 2017," Lt. Cmdr. Zach Harrell told Military.com via email.

Russia, the Syrian regime's strongest ally, has taken a number of measures to express displeasure with the U.S. strike. The assault, in which 59 Tomahawk missiles destroyed 20 percent of Syria's operational aircraft, according to Pentagon accounts, and damaged Syrian fuel and ammunition sites, came in the wake of a Syrian chemical weapons attack on rebel-held territory that killed dozens of civilians, including women and children.

Less than 24 hours after the strikes, Russia announced it was ending a deconfliction agreement established with the U.S. in 2015 to allow both nations to safely fly military aircraft over Syria. In the wake of that move, U.S. officials confirmed they had put a temporary stop to Syria air missions due to safety concerns.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials have also condemned the U.S. missile strikes, saying they dealt a significant blow to the U.S.-Russian relationship.

Hours after the missile strikes, USNI News reported that the Grigorovich, a 4,000-ton warship bearing Kalibr cruise missile strikes that was commissioned just a year ago, was moving into the Mediterranean, citing ship spotters in the region.

Multiple Russian-owned news outlets reported that the ship is conducting routine operations. The ship, part of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, had operated in the Mediterranean earlier this year, departing in early April to take part in bilateral naval exercises with Turkey. The Russian-owned outlet Sputnik reported that the Grigorovich will remain in the Mediterranean until summer.

Officials have said the Ross and Porter, which are both homeported in Rota, Spain, also intend to maintain their presence in the region. The Ross will be in port in Lanarca, Cyprus tomorrow in order to observe a change of command, according to an April 9 Navy news release. The port is only a few hundred miles off the Syrian coast.

Officials with the Navy said they could not speak to the location or intentions of any Russian ships.

"U.S. Navy warships routinely communicate with foreign warships in international waters and act in accordance with internationally recognized maritime laws, standards and norms," a defense official told Military.com.

But at least one senior Naval leader is sounding a note of caution about an overall increase in Russian naval activity, despite the nation's shrinking fleet.

"We're seeing activity that we didn't even see when it was the Soviet Union," Adm. Michelle Howard, head of Naval Forces Europe and Africa and NATO's Allied Joint Force Command, told Reuters in an April 8 interview. "It's precedential activity."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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