USA Military First Look

Russian spy ship spotted off Delaware coast

In a complicated week for US relations with Russia, a Russian surveillance ship was spotted off the eastern seaboard.

Russian navy vessel Admiral Tributs, a large anti-submarine ship, docks at the south harbor port area in metro Manila, Philippines, Jan. 3, 2017. A Russian submarine was spotted along the US coastline on Feb. 14.
Romeo Ranoco/ Reuters/ File | Caption

The Russian surveillance ship Viktor Leonov was spotted traveling about 70 miles off the coast of Delaware on Tuesday morning, the latest incident in Russia-US relations as some observers suggest the Kremlin tests the new White House's resolve.

While well beyond the United States territory line, which sits 12 nautical miles out, this is the first incident of its kind since 2015, when the same ship was noticed patrolling both off the coast of the United States and Havana, Cuba.

Equipped with signals intelligence capabilities that allow it to intercept US communications, the ship also has the ability to measure US sonar capabilities, as Fox News reported Wednesday.

Although the vessel is armed with surface-to-air missiles, not everyone perceives the ship as a threat.

“It’s not a huge concern, but we are keeping our eyes on it,” one unnamed official told Fox News, which first reported on the ship's appearance.

However, by Wednesday morning the Viktor Leonov had travelled even closer, "loitering" 30 miles south of Groton, Conn., as a US official told Fox. The location, near the US Navy's main East Coast submarine base, marks the furthest north the ship had ever traveled along the US eastern seaboard. It is expected to travel back south along the coast and then toward the Caribbean, CBS reports.

Coming after a week full of news about US-Russia relations, however, the ship's presence concerned some politicians.

Taken together with other recent naval incidents, the ship's appearance represents "unacceptable, aggressive action ... clearly testing the resolve of a new administration," said Rep. Joe Courtney (D) of Connecticut in a statement, according to USA Today.

Monday evening, Michael T. Flynn became the shortest-tenured national security advisor in US history when he resigned from his position after it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other senior White House officials about a conversation he had conducted with the Russian ambassador before President Trump's inauguration, in which they discussed present sanctions between the two countries.

Last week, four Russian aircraft flew in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner near a US Navy destroyer in the Black Sea. According to NBC News, an armed Russian Su-24 flew within 200 yards of the USS Porter at a close altitude of 300 feet and traveling faster than 500 knots.

In a separate incident, two other unarmed Su-24s came within 300 yards of the ship, and an IL-38 flew by at an unusually low altitude, NBC reports.

According to officials, all four planes were flying with their transponders turned off, thus increasing the risk of an accident.

In addition, US officials said Tuesday that Russia had secretly launched a new cruise missile, in violation of a 1987 treaty that bans ground-based intermediate-range missiles for both Russia and the United States.

Evidently the missiles had been in development for years, despite protests from the US that they violated the treaty.

"We know that this is an old issue. The Russians have been building and testing these things in violation of the INF treaty going back to the Obama administration," an official told Reuters under condition of anonymity. "The issue now is the things are deployed and it’s an even greater violation of the INF Treaty."

While the missile situation carries over from the previous administration, the flurry of new incidents this week has raised concerns from many critics of Mr. Trump's White House, as scrutiny intensifies around its communications with Russian officials.

"Russia is acting like it has a permission slip to expand influence, test limits of reach," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D) of Connecticut on Wednesday. "Questions are obvious: does it, and if so, why?"