On May 4, 2020, four US Naval vessels and a frigate of the Royal Navy entered the Barents Sea, marking the first time the US Navy has operated surface ships in the Barents since the 1980s. In a statement, the commander of the 6th Fleet, Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, declared, "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. We remain committed to promoting regional security and stability, while building trust and reinforcing a foundation of Arctic readiness."
Although the Barents Sea is legally considered international waters, it has long been considered Russia's naval playground, with most non-Russian warships avoiding the area. The heart of the Russian navy, the Northern Fleet, is based in Severomorsk, Russia - a small city tucked in a bay near the Barents Sea.
The US Navy stated that it informed the Russian Defense Ministry of its intention to send ships into the Barents on May 1 in order to, "avoid misperceptions, reduce risk, and prevent inadvertent escalation." In a press release the same night, the Ministry bluntly observed that Russian naval assets were monitoring the actions of the NATO vessels.
The ships in the NATO Surface Action Group include the Royal Navy’s HMS Kent (F-78), USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), USS Porter (DDG-78), USS Roosevelt (DDG-80), with supplies coming from the fast combat support ship USNS Supply (T-AOE 6).
Military signaling between NATO and Russia has become more common in the past months. Two weeks ago, the United States presented evidence that Russia had tested an anti-satellite missile capable of striking US platforms in space. Last week, Russia sent multiple Tupolev Tu-22M3s, nuclear-capable bombers, and TU-142s, submarine-hunters, on long-distance patrols near NATO countries borders. On Friday, the same NATO Surface Action Group that is now in the Barents conducted an anti-submarine exercise alongside an American P8 maritime surveillance aircraft and an undisclosed American submarine.