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U.S. military satellites are currently tracking them

The Russians are not quite done yet it seems. Russian spy ships are now again sailing uncomfortably close to American waters. The ship known as the Viktor Leonov SSV-175 has been under surveillance by the Pentagon for some time due to the ship sailing to close for comfort on several occasions. The warship is one of Russia’s Vishnya-class ships generally used for intelligence gathering. Now the ship has appeared again, docking at the port of Havana on Friday. Photos taken by CNN’s Havana correspondent, Patrick Oppmann, show the ship sailing past an American cruise ship as it made its way into the harbor.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, the Russian ship was previously seen leaving Trinidad and Tobago for destinations unknown back in mid-January. Just a few days later, the ship was spotted 70 miles off the coast of Delaware and roughly 100 miles off the coast of Virginia, heading north at 10 knots according to Pentagon officials. The location was still considered to be international waters as the U.S. territory line is only 12 nautical miles off the coast.

The same vessel has made multiple trips to Cuba in recent years in addition to a trip up and down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States last year.

The last time U.S. military satellites identified a Russian spy ship in close proximity to America shores was in September 2015. This was shortly after five Chinese naval ships were spotted in the Bering Sea. The ship was identified as one with the capability to cut undersea communications cables and other sensors and was spotted sailing near Cape Canaveral, Florida, and 20 miles south in Kings Bay, Georgia. Kings Bay is home to the U.S. Navy’s East Coast ballistic missile submarine fleet. It goes without saying that this ship and its proximity to America waters put the U.S. Navy and the Pentagon on high alert.

The Miami Herald revealed the ship had been spotted recently near locations where U.S. naval installations operate speaking of an incident in February 2017, where the ship was seen only 30 miles off the coast of Connecticut.

According to Pentagon officials, these trips have become commonplace in recent years. Each time, the vessel has remained well into international waters and has conducted intelligence-gathering operations similar to those conducted by the United States.

Russian spy ship Viktor Leonov passes by a U.S. American cruise ship as it enters Havana harbor on March 16, 2018.
Russian spy ship Viktor Leonov passes by a U.S. American cruise ship as it enters Havana harbor on March 16, 2018. Photo credit Patrick Oppmann – CNN

On previous occasions, the Russian spy ship has docked in Cuba to load supplies. In January 2015, it arrived unannounced the day before the arrival of a U.S. delegation led by Roberta Jacobson, then the assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, who was in charge of negotiations for the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

This ship is considered a high-tech spy ship and is armed with anti-aircraft missiles to be deployed for defensive and offensive measures. Yet there are no U.S. Navy aircraft carriers nearby. The ship has proved troublesome for the US Navy, whose flagship aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R Ford, broke down while being tailed.  The USS Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier, is currently off the coast of Florida doing carrier qualifications, with young pilots making their first landings. Ike does not currently have strike aircraft.

It has previously been deployed by Russian government officials to carry out intelligence-gathering expeditions in and around the Caribbean and near the coast of the United States. It is also capable of intercepting communications or signals, as well as measuring U.S. Navy sonar capability.

Zero Hedge reports that during the Cold War era it was routine for Russian intelligence gathering ships to park off  U.S. submarine bases along the East Coast.  ‘Outside of U.S. intelligence gathering satellites monitoring the Russian spy ship’s voyage north, there are several airborne platforms along the East Coast that could be used by the U.S. military to monitor the Russian ship, according to one official. Currently, there are four U.S. Navy warships in the Atlantic off the coast of Norfolk participating in normal training, but none have been tasked with shadowing the Russian spy ship.’

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in 2017 – There’s been a lot made of this Russian ship, the Viktor Leonov, reported to be off the East Coast of the U.S. It’s not something we’ve seen where they’ve entered U.S. territorial waters, and as such it’s lawful and very similar to operations we do in places around the world.’

Yet others are not so sure there is nothing to worry about. Commander Bill Speaks, a spokesman for the US Navy, said the Viktor Leonov is being closely monitored along the US east coast. He stated – ‘We are tracking the Viktor Leonov’s presence off the east coast, much like we are aware of all vessels approaching the United States. We respect the right and freedoms of all nations to operate in international waters in accordance with international law.’

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