A Russian intelligence-gathering ship is again plying the waters off the southern United States in operations aimed at spying on U.S. ballistic missile submarines based in the area, defense officials said.
The intelligence collection ship, Viktor Leonov, has been closely watched by U.S. Navy ships and aircraft for the past several days near Jacksonville, Fla., close to the Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay, Ga. The ship also conducted operations there in April.
The spying comes amid heightened U.S.-Russia tensions over the crisis in Ukraine, where Russian forces annexed the Crimea last year and are continuing to arm pro-Moscow rebels in the eastern part of the country.
The Kings Bay base is homeport for the Navy’s Submarine Group 10, with six nuclear-armed missile submarines and two conventionally armed missile submarines.
“It’s been all in international waters and all perfectly legal,” said a defense official familiar with efforts to monitor the ship. “But it’s interesting that it is operating, collecting on us where it is.”
This week, the Leonov was spotted anchored about 22 miles off the Florida coast, southeast of Kings Bay.
It reportedly left Cuba on Jan. 22, and its movements since then have not been made public.