WASHINGTON D.C. — The Pentagon has confirmed the presence of Russian spy ship Viktor Leonov 17 nautical miles off the coast of the U.S. near Norfolk, Virginia, where the U.S. has several large naval military installations.
The ship, however, is not within U.S. territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles out from its shores. Therefore, it is operating lawfully in international waters, defense officials said.
“This is not something that we’ve seen, that they’ve entered US territorial waters. And as such, it’s lawful and very similar to operations we do ourselves in places around the world,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.
Still, the ship’s presence so close to the U.S. eastern coast is unusual. The last times the Viktor Leonov patrolled the U.S. East Coast was in 2015.
Davis said it also did so in 2014, 2012, and as far back as 1998, making port visits in Havana, Cuba, and participating in counter-narcotics exercises.
The closeness of the ship to U.S. naval facilities has also sparked concern.
Davis said the Viktor Leonov is one of several dedicated intelligence collection vessels operated by the Russian Navy.
“We know from past activities that they are very interested in things like the submarine base in New London, Connecticut and many other naval facilities from Florida to Virginia,” he said.
“They do routinely deploy intelligence collection vessels worldwide to monitor the activities and particularly naval exercises of other nations. But again, conducted lawfully and in international waters and not unlike operations that we conduct ourselves.”
He said the ship has small arms for self-defense but is not armed with any weapon that would present a threat to the U.S. homeland or the U.S. population.
Davis said the U.S. Coast Guard is tracking the ship but would not say how.
“We are perfectly aware of where it is,” he said. “You can be assured we are watching it closely.”
President Trump, during his press conference on Thursday, called the vessel’s presence “not good” but indicated he would not do anything about it.
“The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say ‘oh, it’s so great,'” he said.
“That’s not great. That’s not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia,” he said.
According to FOX News, the spy ship left her homeport in the Barents Sea near Norway around New Year’s Day. It made a port call in Jamaica, then began its voyage north along the east coast of the U.S.
It went as far up north as Connecticut, where the U.S. operates a submarine base, getting within 30 nautical miles off the coast.