NEW YORK -- Four U.S. Navy ships entered the Barents Sea off Russia for the first time in more than 30 years, the Navy said Monday, in what is seen to be part of a new Arctic strategy.
Three Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers -- the USS Donald Cook, the USS Porter and the USS Roosevelt -- and the fast combat support ship USNS Supply were joined by the British Royal Navy's HMS Kent for maritime security operations to assert freedom of navigation and demonstrate seamless integration among allies, the announcement said.
U.S. Navy surface ships had not operated in the Barents since the mid-1980s, during the Cold War. The Russian Ministry of Defense was notified Friday of the visit to the Barents Sea, the Navy said.
The Trump administration's Arctic strategy aims for "a secure and stable Arctic where U.S. interests are safeguarded" and an Arctic that "remains a region free of conflict," a senior State Department official told reporters in an April telebriefing.
The official specifically cited "the desire of Russia and the People's Republic of China to challenge the United States and the West."
Climate change has led to more Arctic ice melting in summer months. The "rapidly changing Arctic system" will create "incentives for the Kremlin and the PRC to pursue agendas that clash with the interests of the United States and our allies and partners," the official said.
Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet, explained in Monday's announcement that the Navy is committed to "Arctic readiness."
"In these challenging times, it is more important than ever that we maintain our steady drumbeat of operations across the European theater, while taking prudent measures to protect the health of our force," she said.
The U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, operates in the seas around Europe and Africa.
Russia's National Defense Management Center, the supreme command and control center of the Ministry of Defense and the Russian Armed Forces, said Monday that the country's Northern Fleet had begun monitoring the American and British ships upon the strike group's entry into the Barents.
The Northern Fleet, which includes both nuclear-powered ships and submarines, is based near Murmansk in the waters of the Kola Bay, a fjord that feeds into the Barents Sea.
The American ships Porter and Donald Cook recently completed a bilateral naval anti-submarine warfare exercise with the British vessel Kent in the Norwegian Sea.
In the April press briefing, the senior State Department official said the U.S. had developed a $12.1 million economic aid package for Greenland and aimed to set up a consulate in the Danish territory around summer.
The official rejected China's claim that it is geographically a "near-Arctic state" and thus a stakeholder in Arctic affairs.
"There are only Arctic states and non-Arctic states," the official said, quoting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And "no third category exists, so we do not accept Beijing's claims to be a near-Arctic state."