Government officials insist a Russian spy ship steered clear of U.S. waters Wednesday as it moved north in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida’s Mayport Naval Station and Georgia’s Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, according to the Department of Defense.
“The ship has not entered U.S. territorial waters,” said Maj. Jamie Davis, a spokesman for the Department of Defense. “We respect freedom of navigation exercised by all nations beyond the territorial sea of a coastal state consistent with international law.”
Davis said the Vishnya-class intelligence ship Viktor Leonov was about 20 miles south of Kings Bay on Wednesday. He said the same ship was spotted off the coast of Connecticut last month, and it has travelled up the Atlantic Coast before in 2014 and 2015.
The Leonov is a Russian spy vessel outfitted with high-tech intelligence-gathering equipment designed to intercept communications signals.
“We are aware of the ship’s presence, as we are aware of all vessels in the approaches to the United States and Canada,” Davis said.
At a February news conference, President Donald Trump was asked about the ship and other Russian maneuvers since the new administration took office.
“The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles offshore right out of the water,” Trump said. “Everyone in this country’s going to say ‘Oh, it’s so great.’ That’s not great. That’s not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia.”
The ship came within 30 miles of Groton Naval Submarine Base on Feb. 15 and was being monitored by the Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard at the time. The next morning the Coast Guard acknowledged it was continuing to track the ship as it remained in international waters. The Coast Guard did not disclose a specific location.
Calls to the Coast Guard were not returned Thursday afternoon.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut received a classified briefing from the Department of Defense after the Leonov passed through waters near his home state.
“While this spy ship is no longer off the coast of Connecticut, and has moved south, my strong view is that this incident shows the need for proactive steps to prevent cyber-surveillance or electronic espionage,” he said.
Officials at Mayport and Kings Bay said base personnel were going about business as usual Thursday.
Joe Daraskevich: (904) 359-4308