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US Navy tracks Russian spy ship 30 miles off Virginia coast

Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval base in the world, in Virginia on July 7, 2011.

CHRISTOPHER STOLTZ/U.S. NAVY

By BROCK VERGAKIS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: January 25, 2018

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The Navy tracked a Russian spy ship 30 miles off the coast of Virginia on Wednesday in what is becoming an increasingly routine deployment for the intelligence-gathering vessel, according to military officials.

The Viktor Leonov recently completed a port visit to Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean Sea and is being shadowed by the Norfolk-based destroyer USS Cole as it travels in international waters along the East Coast of the United States, according to a defense official briefed on the ship's movements, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Viktor Leonov is part of Russia's Northern Fleet and made similar trips in 2017, 2015, 2014 and 2012. The official said that based on previous deployments to the area this time of year, the Viktor Leonov's arrival and operations were anticipated.

This past year, the Viktor Leonov was spotted near Groton, Conn. before heading south along the coast toward the Caribbean. Groton is home to a major submarine base and the ship typically passes by other major Navy bases.

Virginia is likely of interest because of the significant military presence in Hampton Roads. U.S. ships also collect intelligence near the shores of other countries, including Russia.

U.S. territorial waters extend 12 miles from the shore and the Navy said in a statement that it keeps a close eye on all who approach.

"We are tracking the Viktor Leonov 's presence off the East Coast, much like we are aware of all vessels approaching the United States and Canada," said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Wierzbicki, a Navy spokesman. "We respect the rights and freedoms of all nations to operate in international waters in accordance with international law."

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