The Russian Ministry of Defense claims a U.S. Navy Virginia-class submarine left Russian territorial waters Saturday after that country’s navy took “appropriate” actions.
The U.S. Navy says the incident just didn’t happen.
The Russian ministry said it summoned the U.S. embassy’s military attache after its navy detected an American submarine in Russian waters near the Kuril Islands in the Pacific. The submarine declined orders to leave, but departed after the navy used unspecified “appropriate means,” the ministry said.
The U.S. submarine was operating in an area where the Russian navy was conducting military exercises in Russian Federation national waters near the island of Urup in the Kuril archipelago at 10:40 am Moscow time, the MOD claimed.
The ministry claimed that its surface ship communicated with the crew of the submarine via underwater sonar communication systems in Russian and English. It said the U.S. boat was messaged, “You are in the Russian territorial waters right now! Surface immediately!”
The crew of the submarine ignored the communication, the Russians claim.
U.S. Navy officials flatly denied the assertions.
“There is no truth to the Russian claims of our operations in their territorial waters,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Kyle Raines, a spokesman for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, in a statement. “I will not comment on the precise location of our submarines, but we do fly, sail and operate safely in international waters.”
Asked if there was contact between the two ships in international waters, Raines said there was no encounter at all between the two forces.
The Russians claimed the crew of the frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov used “approved measures in accordance with the documents governing the Russian Federation border protection,” according to the MOD release, which did not specify what those measures were.
The American submarine “used a self-propelled target-splitting imitator on the radio positioning and acoustic control and left the Russian territorial waters at top speed,” according to the release.
The Russian Pacific fleet ships continued the planned military drills, including underwater control to prohibit Russian border violations, the MOD said.
News of the alleged submarine incident came as Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden held a high-stakes telephone call Saturday while a tense world watched and worried that an invasion of Ukraine could begin within days.
Before talking to Biden, Putin had a telephone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, who met with him in Moscow earlier in the week to try to resolve the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. A Kremlin summary of the call suggested that little progress was made toward cooling tensions.
In a sign that American officials are getting ready for a worst-case scenario, the United States announced plans to evacuate its embassy in the Ukrainian capital, and Britain joined other European nations in urging its citizens to leave Ukraine.
Russia has massed more than 130,000 troops near the Ukraine border and has sent troops to exercises in neighboring Belarus, but denies that it intends to launch an offensive against Ukraine.
The timing of any possible Russian military action remained a key question.
The U.S. picked up intelligence that Russia is looking at Wednesday as a target date, according to a U.S. official familiar with the findings. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and did so only on condition of anonymity, would not say how definitive the intelligence was. The White House publicly underscored that the U.S. does not know with certainty whether Putin is committed to invasion.
However, U.S. officials said anew that Russia’s buildup of firepower near Ukraine has reached the point where it could invade on short notice.
Adding to the sense of crisis, the Pentagon ordered an additional 3,000 U.S. troops to Poland to reassure allies. And on Saturday morning, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the 160-member Task Force Gator, which was training Ukrainian troops in the western part of the country, to redeploy elsewhere in Europe.
A Kremlin statement about the Putin-Macron call referred to “provocative speculations about an allegedly planned Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine.” Russia has consistently denied that it plans military action against its neighbor.
Putin also complained in the call that the United States and NATO have not responded satisfactorily to Russian demands that Ukraine be prohibited from joining the military alliance and that NATO pull back forces from Eastern Europe.
The closely watched call between Biden and Putin began at 11:04 a.m. EST, the White House said. Biden conducted the call from Camp David.
This is a developing story. Stay with Navy Times for updates.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.