Coast Guard Tracking Russian Spy Ship Near U.S. Base in Connecticut

GROTON, Conn. (The Hartford Courant/TNS) -

Officials are tracking a Russian spy ship that cruised up the East Coast to within 30 miles of the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton Wednesday in what some lawmakers called another aggressive action from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“A Russian spy ship patrolling 30 miles from the Groton sub base underscores that the threats posed by a resurgent Russia are real,” U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) said in a written statement.

Two retired U.S. Naval submarine commanders downplayed the significance of the Russian presence, saying the ship presents little threat to U.S. security.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it is tracking the ship’s course, but would not disclose the precise location.

“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. The ship has not entered U.S. territorial waters, which extend 12 miles out to sea,” the Coast Guard said in a statement. “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.”

The ship began the trip north along the coast from Havana, where it was photographed and is expected to return.

Lawmakers, noting recent incidents including Russian planes “buzzing” a Navy ship in the Black Sea, point to this ship’s actions as yet another aggressive Russian action.

“They are doing this obviously with aggressive intent to say the least. … This is part of a pattern of what’s going on right now, not just off the East Coast of the U.S., but overseas,” Courtney, whose district includes Groton, said on the House Floor Wednesday morning.

Two retired senior submarine commanders said Wednesday that in their opinions, such a Russian spy ship has little ability to pry into U.S. secrets and there is no reason for alarm.

“This [is] for show,” said retired Rear Adm. Ron Thunman, former deputy chief of naval operations for submarine warfare. “I mean, what could that thing do to us? It doesn’t have anything special that I know of today — of course, I’ve been out of it for a few years — but don’t know of any specialized equipment that they could use to intercept out classified communications.

“The only thing they could get out of the radio circuitry is normal commercial traffic,” said Thunman, who played cat-and-mouse games with the Russians throughout his career as a commander of submarines and submarine groups around the world. “Any sort of classified traffic that we have goes by classified circuits and they can’t get into it.”