Sighting of Chinese and Russian warships near Aleutians prompts Navy response

a Navy warship
Several U.S. Navy warships docked in Unalaska last week, after 11 Chinese and Russian military vessels were found operating in the region. (Andy Lusk/KUCB)

Navy warships were dispatched to the Aleutian Islands last week, after 11 Chinese and Russian military vessels were found operating in the region.

The exact location of the foreign ships was not disclosed, but a military spokesperson from the U.S. Northern Command said the foreign patrol ships remained in international waters and were not considered a threat.

Still, U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan issued a statement Saturday saying the incident shows why the military should expand its presence in Alaska to protect U.S. interests.

“This is a stark reminder of Alaska’s proximity to both China and Russia, as well as the essential role our state plays in our national defense and territorial sovereignty,” Murkowski said.

Her office offered additional assurances to Aleutian communities.

“Because this is a military operation, we are limited with what we can say,” said Joe Plesha, a spokesperson with Murkowski’s office. He assured Unalaskans the senator was “taking this incursion very seriously.”

China has sent naval ships to the Bering Sea off Alaska’s shores before, in what U.S. analysts often say is a provocative gesture. The first-known incident was in 2015, coinciding with then-President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska.

In August of 2021, the U.S. Coast Guard encountered a flotilla of Chinese warships 46 miles off the Aleutian Islands. And the following year, on a routine patrol, a Coast Guard vessel found a group of Russian and Chinese warships traveling together through the Bering Sea.

Sullivan said in the statement he was glad to see a tougher response to these warships, which “sends a strong message to (Chinese President) Xi Jinping and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that the United States will not hesitate to protect and defend our vital national interests in Alaska.”

Unalaska’s city and tribal officials have been weighing the island’s ability to host a larger U.S. military presence. Community leaders are promoting Dutch Harbor as a key port in the nation’s Arctic plan, as melting ice opens shipping lanes and allows for more foreign military transits.

Previous articleAlaska News Nightly: Monday, August 7, 2023
Next articleNew ID law intended to support Alaskans exiting incarceration, reduce recidivism