Officials downplay Russian spy ship off east coast of US
By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 15, 2017
WASHINGTON — The U.S. is downplaying the presence of a Russian intelligence ship off the coast of Connecticut, despite two other recent incidents with Russia that have raised security concerns.
The Vishnya-class Viktor Leonov is an intelligence collection ship that can carry surface-to-air missiles, but it was not clear whether the ship is armed, a U.S. defense official said on the condition of anonymity. The ship had been making its way up the east coast in the Atlantic Ocean, the official said, and was spotted off the coast of Delaware on Tuesday. By Wednesday, it was 30 miles south of a U.S. submarine base in Connecticut.
The Pentagon downplayed its presence, saying that the spy ship remains in international waters.
“We are aware of the vessel’s presence. It has not entered U.S. territorial waters,” said spokeswoman Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson. “We respect freedom of navigation exercised by all nations beyond the territorial sea of a coastal state consistent with international law.”
The ship sighting is one of three recent security incidents that could escalate tensions between the U.S. and Russia. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Russia deployed a new cruise missile that is prohibited under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987. Also Tuesday, U.S. European Command confirmed that Russian jets had conducted unsafe fly-bys of a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Porter, in the Black Sea on Feb. 10.
The incidents come on the heels of the resignation of President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, over concerns that he had not been fully forthcoming about his communications with Russia before Trump took office.
The defense official said having Russian vessels off the U.S. coast was common during the Cold War, but far less common now. The official said this is the third visit by the Leonov to the U.S. coast since 2014.