By Brad Lendon, Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen, CNN
(CNN)The United States and Russian navies are at odds over an apparent near collision in the Pacific Friday with each side blaming the other.
The US and Russian warships came somewhere between 50 feet and 165 feet of each other, according to the two opposing reports, with both sides alleging their ships were forced to perform emergency maneuvers to avoid a collision, which can be seen in video and a picture of the event obtained by CNN.
In the video taken from the American ship, the two ships come so close that Russian sailors can be seen appearing to sunbathe on the stern of their vessel.
“A Russian destroyer …. made an unsafe maneuver against USS Chancellorsville, closing to 50-100 feet, putting the safety of her crew and ship at risk,” US Navy spokesman Cmdr. Clayton Doss told CNN in a statement.
“This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision,” Doss said.
This latest incident comes just days after the US Navy accused Russia of intercepting a US aircraft and amid tensions with Moscow on a wide range of geopolitical issues.
Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Russian Vladimir Putin in the resort town of Sochi, where he warned Russia about interfering in US elections, taking a tougher public line than President Donald Trump on the issue.
It also comes at a time of increasing cooperation between China and Russia. After a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Kremlin Wednesday, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said relations between the two countries have reached an “unprecedented level.”
Russia’s geopolitical views align with those of China on many international and regional issues, Putin added.
Both leaders agreed that there is no alternative to a peaceful solution on the Korean Peninsula. They discussed joint efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria and attempts to stabilize the situation in Venezuela, he said.
Xi called the Russian President “a friend,” and reiterated Putin’s view, saying that “our cooperation is based on mutual trust.”
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday that he is concerned about the safety of sailors following the “unsafe and unprofessional” incident and said the US will engage the Russians in “military to military” talks to convey a formal diplomatic message of concern, known as a démarche, to Moscow.
“We’ll have military to military conversations with the Russians and of course we’ll démarche them. To me its safety that is most important. It will not deter us when conducting our operations,” he said before greeting Greek Minister of National Defence Evangelos Apostolakis to the Pentagon.
‘Unsafe and unprofessional’
The US guided-missile cruiser was traveling in a straight line and trying to recover its helicopter when the incident occurred, he said.
“We consider Russia’s actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional,” Doss said.
CNN obtained the video and picture of the event after a US official told CNN earlier that the Navy was working to declassify images to dispute the Russian narrative that the US was at fault.
Two navy officials tell CNN the Russian wake in the photo could only come from a steep turn that has to be executed at high speed.
“The wakes suggest the Russian ship didn’t adhere to either the rules of the road or the incidents at sea agreement,” according to Carl Schuster, a retired US Navy captain and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
International maritime law requires ships to maintain a safe distance, normally interpreted as 1,000 yards, when passing another. It also requires navies not to interfere with another ship conducting flight operations, he said.
The US account was contradicted by Russia’s Pacific Fleet, which claimed it was the US ship that instigated the incident, according to comments carried by the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency.
“When moving (on) parallel courses of a detachment of ships of the Pacific Fleet and a carrier group of the US Navy, the cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed its direction and crossed within 50 meters of the Admiral Vinogradov,” forcing the Russian destroyer to take emergency evasive action, the RIA-Novosti report said.
The US Navy said the incident occurred in the Philippine Sea while the Russian report said it happened in the East China Sea. The boundary between the two bodies of water is the Senakaku Islands (also known as the Diaoyu islands in China), to the south of Japan and east of Taiwan.