A large joint Russia-China military exercise which is being described as unprecedented in size has sparked alarm in the Pentagon, given it took place off Alaska, causing the US to dispatch four navy warships and aerial assets in the same waters, a very rare move itself of significant size.
The drills by Washington's most powerful nuclear-armed rivals was called in The Wall Street Journal "the largest such flotilla to approach American shores" in recent history, but it never entered American territorial waters.
It was revealed by US defense officials in a Sunday morning WSJ report, which detailed that "Eleven Russian and Chinese ships steamed close to the Aleutian Islands," and further, "The ships, which never entered U.S. territorial waters and have since left, were shadowed by four U.S. destroyers and P-8 Poseidon aircraft."
One analyst and retired Navy captain cited in the report said it was "a historical first" and "highly provocative" - particularly given the backdrop of the raging Ukraine war and rising Taiwan tensions. The flotilla came close to Alaska last week but has since left, US officials indicated.
Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan (R) said in a Sunday Fox News interview that Congressional leaders were briefed by the Pentagon last week when the Chinese and Russian ships were patrolling.
He explained: "Whether you live in Alaska like I do, or on the East Coast of the United States, a very large surface action task force between our two main adversaries, probing very closely to United States shores is concerning."
"It just solidifies this idea that we've entered a new era of authoritarian aggression led by the dictators in Beijing and Moscow who are increasingly aggressive," he added, striking a hawkish tone. However, he failed to mention the very regular US naval and aerial patrols not far off mainland China, as well as in the Taiwan Strait - somewhat parallel to moves now being made by China and Russia near Alaska. Beijing likely sees itself as merely "answering" the prior US naval provocations in places like the South China Sea.
Both sides of the rivalry, in conducting such 'threatening' joint drills and flotillas tend to emphasize that such patrols only take place in international waters. The Pentagon regularly touts its "freedom of navigation" operations in China's own backyard.
But the Pentagon's response to this China-Russia provocation was something Sen. Sullivan has described as equally unprecedented, given that multiple US warships were quickly dispatched in Alaskan waters:
"We ramped that up significantly. Four U.S. destroyers and air assets, P-8's, that were tracking and monitoring this large-scale Russian-Chinese task force quite closely. So that is a significant improvement," said Sullivan. "That's a lot of naval power up here demonstrating American resolve."
In recent years, even significantly prior to Russia's 'special operation' in Ukraine, which has brought NATO and Moscow to the brink of direct war, the Chinese and Russian navies had already been ramping up coordinated activity in places like the Sea of Japan and near Japanese islands, which Tokyo has protested as an unwarranted intrusion.
There were joint Russia-Chinese naval maneuvers in the Bearing Sea, near Alaska, in 2021 and 2022 as well, but never on a scale of what's now being described of this fresh incident. This appears a sign of Putin and Xi's pledge of "no limits friendship" - first articulated nearer the start of the Ukraine war. Both countries are flexing their military might just off the North American continent.