The presence of a Russian intelligence ship — Viktor Leonov SSV-175 — 30 miles off the eastern coast of the United States on Wednesday may seem like an instance of saber rattling on Moscow’s part, but the Pentagon and politicians are both downplaying it as routine activity.
“Residents of Connecticut should know that the arrival of the Viktor Leonov, a Russian intelligence ship, 30 miles off of our coast yesterday does not present a direct threat to our physical safety,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, according to local newspaper Hartford Courant. However, the representative added it was troubling in light of President Donald Trump’s alleged ties with Russia.
While Viktor Leonov is capable of carrying surface-to-air missiles, a U.S. defense official, on conditions of anonymity, told Stars and Stripes that it was not clear whether the ship is armed. The U.S. Department of Defense said its presence in international waters was not a threat.
“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 vessel was spotted soon after Trump’s national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, resigned amid security concerns over his communications with Russia before Trump took office last month.
Over the past week, there have also been other reports of security incidents in relation to Moscow. One such incident was Russia’s alleged deployment of a new cruise missile prohibited under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987, reported Tuesday by the New York Times. The same day, reports said that the U.S. European Command said Moscow’s jets conducted unsafe fly-bys of a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea.
The Russian vessel spotted off the coast of Connecticut reportedly started its journey north along the coast from Havana and is expected to return along the same route. While presence of spy ships like these was common during the Cold War era, the defense official told Stars and Stripes that this was Leonov’s third visit to the U.S. coast since 2014.