As a Russian intelligence vessel skirts the eastern tip of Long Island in international waters in the midst of heightened national attention to U.S.-Russian relations, federal lawmakers in Connecticut and on the East End are sounding an alarm about the ship’s proximity to U.S. military installations.
The vessel, identified by the U.S. Defense Department as the SSV-175 Viktor Leonov, is a Vishnya-class intelligence collection ship built for the Soviet Navy in the 1980s. This class of ship is 91.5 meters long, about 300 feet, and is designed for signals intelligence gathering and interception of electronic communication.
“Reports have stated that a Russian spy ship was spotted just south of Montauk and that this latest activity is reportedly consistent with, but further north than, the ship’s past activity,” said East End Congressman Lee Zeldin, a former Army Military Intelligence Officer who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “My office has requested more information from officials. I will continue to monitor the situation closely and I will share updates as we can.”
“Russia’s increased aggression is a direct threat,” he added. “Vladimir Putin aspires to be Vladimir the Great and probably would love to put the U.S.S.R. back together again if he could. Russia is our adversary, meddling in ways globally that are putting American service members and the security of the free world at risk.”
News reports first picked up the presence of the ship off the coast of Delaware Tuesday. It had also been reported off the coast of Florida in 2014 and 2015, and caused a stir when it was seen docked in Old Havana, Cuba in 2015, just before the U.S. restored diplomatic talks with the island nation and Russian ally.
The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed Wednesday afternoon that it is tracking the ship.
“The U.S. Coast Guard is aware of a Russian Federation-flagged vessel transiting international waters off the East Coast of the United States, as we are of all vessels approaching the U.S.,” said the Coast Guard in a statement.
“The ship has not entered U.S. territorial waters, which extend 12 miles out to sea,” the agency added. “We respect freedom of navigation exercised by all nations beyond the territorial sea of a coastal state consistent with international law. The Coast Guard continues to coordinate with federal agency partners to monitor maritime contacts operating in the vicinity of U.S. shores.”
But Connecticut lawmakers whose districts include Naval Submarine Base New London and the United States Coast Guard Academy, also in New London, were more wary.
“A Russian spy ship patrolling 30 miles from the Groton SUBASE underscores that the threats posed by a resurgent Russia are real,” said Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney, a ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, in a statement Wednesday.
“This unacceptable, aggressive action, combined with the buzzing of US Navy ships in the Black Sea yesterday, are clearly testing the resolve of a new administration,” he added. “While I have total confidence in our Navy’s vigilant, responsible readiness, the White House needs to move past their seeming infatuation with Putin and treat him like the serious threat to global peace and security that he has been for the last five years.”
The news of the ship’s appearance here comes on the heels of revelations by the New York Times Tuesday that members of President Donald Trump’s campaign had contact with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign, when Russia is believed to have attempted to influence the results of the election in Mr. Trump’s favor, and on the heels of news Tuesday that Russia has deployed a cruise missile, in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and the then-Soviet Union.
“Presence of Russian spy ship has to be regarded very seriously b/c Russia is an increasingly aggressive adversary,” tweeted Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal Wednesday afternoon. “It reflects a clear need to harden our defenses against electronic surveillance&cyber espionage.”
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy told News 4 New York that “the fact that we know that it’s there is probably a good thing and I suspect that we have some of our ships in delicate places as well.”
“I think it’s getting a lot of coverage because of the President’s changed policy towards Russia, which is very different than has been sustained by other administrations,” he added. “It’s not that we shouldn’t be talking to the Russians, but we shouldn’t necessarily be embracing everything they are doing.”