Though American and its European allies are quite used to by now Russian drills occurring in places like the Black and Baltic Seas, and even in the Eastern Mediterranean off Syria's coast, on Thursday into Friday the Russian navy conducted military games near Alaska, in a first such instance since the Soviet Union.
The military games took place in the Bering Sea and surprisingly involved over 50 warships and some 40 aircraft. The significant size given the location will surely be seen as a provocation by Washington, in a region which over the past year has seen multiple NORAD jets scrambled to intercept Russian long-range bombers coming too near Alaska's coast.
“We are holding such massive drills there for the first time ever,” Russia’s navy chief, Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov said in an official statement.
The AP reports that the timeline of the exercises remains unclear, and they could be ongoing possibly through the weekend. It's broadly part of a Russian military initiative to better secure the Arctic region and to "protect its resources," as the AP notes.
The HQ of @NORADCommand and @USNorthernCmd are closely monitoring the Russian submarine that surfaced near Alaska today. We closely track vessels of interest, including foreign military naval vessels, in our area of responsibility.— U.S. Northern Command (@USNorthernCmd) August 27, 2020
“We are building up our forces to ensure the economic development of the region,” the Ministry of Defense statement said. “We are getting used to the Arctic spaces.”
Interestingly and certainly provocatively both the Omsk nuclear submarine and the Varyag missile cruiser took part in the games, reportedly launching cruise missiles at targets as part of the exercises.
A Russian submarine surfaced near Alaska on Thursday during a Russian war game exercise, U.S. military officials said. https://t.co/AoimcCdu5f— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) August 28, 2020
NORAD says it's closely monitoring as is the US Coast Guard, the latter which was actually tipped off by US fishing vessels which were stunned to apparently observe military activity.
The Moscow Times also confirms that area fishing vessels actually witnessed a Russian nuclear submarine surfacing - something highly unusual:
A Russian nuclear submarine has surfaced near Alaska during navy exercises, spooking American commercial fishing vessels in the area, the U.S. military said early Friday.
Russia’s Defense Ministry announced Thursday that its nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Omsk and missile cruiser Varyag fired at targets in the Bering Sea as part of its “Ocean Shield 2020” drills. Alaskan media reported that local pollock fishermen had a close encounter with the Russian vessels.
The ultra-rare event of the Omsk nuclear sub surfacing is something that even NATO intelligence is not often able to observe and document.
“We were notified by multiple fishing vessels that were operating out the Bering Sea that they had come across these vessels and were concerned,” a US Coast Guard statement said Thursday.