The U.S. Navy has released videos showing the close call the guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville had with a Russian warship in the Philippine Sea -- and one appears to show shirtless Russian sailors sunbathing as the tense encounter played out.
The Navy shared two videos on social media Friday morning, totaling almost three minutes, that show the tense moments when the Russian destroyer made what leaders with U.S. 7th Fleet called "an unsafe maneuver," forcing the Chancellorsville to throw its engines into reverse.
The first shows shirtless men aboard the Udaloy-class Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov appearing to sunbathe in aft areas as the ships come dangerously close to one another.
Navy officials say the Russian warship came within 50 to 100 feet of the Chancellorsville, putting the ship and her crew at risk.
"This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision," the 7th Fleet said in a statement.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in a statement, "The behavior by the captain of the Russian destroyer in the Philippine Sea was irresponsible and reckless."
"This unwise maneuver" and previous actions by the Russians at sea and in the air "do not match what the world expects from a responsible and trustworthy world power," Richardson said, adding their actions will not deter the U.S. Navy "from supporting the free and open use of the seas and skies where international law clearly allows all to operate."
The cruiser was on a steady course and speed while recovering a helicopter when the Russian destroyer maneuvered from behind and to the right, speeding up and coming danger-close to sideswiping the ship.
The close encounter with the Russian ship was the second the Navy has had in three days with the Russian military. On Tuesday, a Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft was flying in international airspace above the Mediterranean Sea when it was intercepted by a Russian SU-35 three times. Navy officials said one of the passes was unsafe.
In the Chancellorsville incident, "We consider Russia's actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional and not in accordance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS)," as well as "internationally recognized maritime customs," the 7th Fleet statement says.
In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, Russia's Pacific Fleet blamed the Americans for poor seamanship.
"The U.S. guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed course and cut across the path of the destroyer Admiral Vinogradov, coming within 50 meters of the ship," according to the statement. "A protest over the international radio frequency was made to the commanders of the American ship, who were warned about the unacceptable nature of such actions."
The latest flareup with the Russians comes as the U.S. and 18 NATO allies and partner nations prepare for the annual BALTOPS major training exercises in the Baltic region. It will feature amphibious landings by U.S. Marines in Lithuania on June 16.
BALTOPS exercises are usually closely shadowed by Russian air and sea assets.
"We have to be ready for any eventuality," said Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the U.S. 2nd Fleet.
In a phone conference with Pentagon reporters, Lewis said about 50 ships participating in the exercise were gathered in the German port of Kiel for BALTOPS 2019, which will run through June 21.
Lewis said the U.S. has not detected any abnormal activity by the Russians thus far, but British Rear Adm. Andy Burns, deputy commander for BALTOPS, said, "We recognize that Russia is a Baltic Sea state, and we would expect some interaction" at sea.
However, Burns added that the allies also expect the Russians to behave in a "professional manner."
For Lewis and the 2nd Fleet, BALTOPS 2019 will be a test of the new command's operational ability. This will be the 47th annual BALTOPS but the first in which the 2nd Fleet is back in the European region.
The 2nd Fleet was deactivated in 2011 but re-established by Richardson in May 2018 as tensions with Moscow mounted.
Lewis said he has about 100 personnel on his staff for the 2nd Fleet ,which is based in Norfolk, Virginia, and was formed to focus on boosting "our capacity to maneuver and fight in the Atlantic and into the Arctic as the security environment becomes more challenging."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.