A Russian spy ship from their Northern Fleet currently sits about thirty miles off the coast of Groton, Connecticut; a strategic location that will allow them to observe operations at Naval Submarine Base New London, the U.S. Navy’s primary submarine installation on the East Coast.  United States territorial waters extend twelve nautical miles from the shore, placing the Russian spy vessel far enough into international waters to leave the American Navy with no legal recourse but to wait for the ship to depart on its own.  The ship, called the Viktor Leonov, is expected to sail south toward the Caribbean once it has completed its mission – whatever that mission may be.

“We are aware of the vessel’s presence,” Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department, told NBC News. “It has not entered U.S. territorial waters. We respect freedom of navigation exercised by all nations beyond the territorial sea of a coastal State consistent with international law.”

This is not the first time the United States has tracked this spy vessel as it traveled up and down the American coast.  It completed similar voyages in both 2014 and 2015, though this is the first time in recent history that the Viktor Leonov has sailed further north than Virginia.

Despite similar missions in the past, a number of Connecticut lawmakers have voiced concerns about the presence of the ship that is clearly using its suite of intelligence gathering equipment to monitor operations in the United States’ primary Atlantic submarine installation.  This development in conjunction with other Russian acts around the globe and still developing allegations of collusion between President Donald Trump’s election campaign staff and the Russian government have put many lawmakers, and American citizens, on edge.

On Friday, three Russian military aircraft carried out what U.S. officials deemed a “mock attack” on the USS Porter in the Black Sea.  An Su-24 attack jet conducted what was believed to be a practice bombing run on the Porter, flying at approximately 500 knots within 200 yards of the ship at an elevation no greater than three hundred feet above sea level.

Two more Russian planes, an IL-38 maritime patrol plane and another Su-24 jet, stayed in the area as the first jet conducted its practice run.  The Porter attempted to engage in communications with all three aircraft but received no response.  The United States issued a formal grievance with the Kremlin over the aircraft’s “unsafe” actions, but were met with a blank denial of the incident, despite photographs of the Russian jets being released to the media.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy

Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, told Russian state media, “There has been no incident on February 10 involving flybys of Russian military planes in the Black Sea next to USS Porter.”

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Amid these aggressive acts, Russia also deployed a new iteration of a nuclear capable, medium range ballistic missile that American officials claim violates a landmark arms control treaty signed between the United States and Russia in 1987.  The Obama Administration accused the Russians of violating the same treaty in 2014 when they began testing the missile, but its recent deployment from a test range to an operations installation elsewhere in the country indicates its transition from test platform to fully operational weapon.

It is currently believed that Russia has two battalions assigned to the new missile platform, with one remaining at the test location in Kapustin Yar in southern Russia, and the other now deployed to a location defense officials chose not to identify.

President Trump is still actively attempting to fill seats within his administration, to include Michael Flynn’s vacated role as National Security Advisor.  His Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, met with NATO officials in Brussels on Wednesday to re-emphasize America’s commitment to the alliance and its ongoing efforts to check Russian aggression.  He did, however, indicate that if NATO nations do not begin paying into the organization as mandated by its founding charter, the United States may begin to “moderate” its level of commitment.

Because the Kremlin is obviously aware of the political tumult surrounding President Trump and allegations of his staff actively communicating with them during their campaign to discredit the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, it seems unlikely that the timing of these developments is a coincidence.  Russian President Vladimir Putin may be attempting to take advantage of Trump’s continued transition into power, as he learns the full scope of his duties and is briefed on international issues, he and his staff may not be as aware of the full breadth of response options and their potential ramifications due to the hectic transition.  Added difficulties filling vacant seats in his administration and the resignation of his national security advisor place the president in an even more difficult position.

Likewise, the Russian strategy may not be to take advantage of Trump’s transition so much as to continue to unnerve the American people, taking advantage of the allegations levied against the president by ramping up military activities in an effort to throw the American political system into further upheaval, as politicians assume positions regarding Russian activities, they are forced to address the possibility of Russian collusion with their own president in the media.

When President Obama levied sanctions against the Russians for their involvement in the 2016 presidential election, his statement indicated that a portion of the Russian strategy was to affect Americans faith in their election process – and if that’s the case, helping to put Trump in power followed by actively working to discredit him in the eyes of the American people would be a logical progression of that operation.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press