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Russian spy ship spotted close to Groton Navy submarine base

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WASHINGTON -- The Russian spy ship Viktor Leonov was spotted 40 miles closer to the U.S. on Wednesday morning, not far from a Navy submarine base in Groton, U.S. officials said. The ship was spotted 30 miles south of Groton, Connecticut but it remained in international waters. The U.S. territorial boundary extends 12 miles from the coast.

The Russian spy ship was currently “loitering” in the water, the U.S. official said.

"We are aware of the vessel's presence," said Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a Defense Department spokeswoman. "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.

The spy ship is armed with surface-to-air missiles, but its main function is to intercept communications and collect data on U.S. Navy sonar capability. This was the furthest north the Viktor Leonov had ever traveled up the eastern seaboard. The Russian spy ship was last seen off the East Coast of the U.S. about two years ago, spending time near another U.S. submarine base in Kings Bay, Ga. In January 2015, the ship was seen in Havana, Cuba.

The Pentagon expects the Russian spy ship to sail south along the East Coast and return to the Caribbean.

"The Russians have been spying on us for decades," said Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons. "It might be a little provocative, but we do the same thing. I don't see anything about it that is particularly unusual or dangerous."

“There’s always a Russian spy ship somewhere. I think that, international waters, the fact that we know it’s there is probably a good thing and I suspect that we have some of our ships in delicate places as well,” said Gov. Dan Malloy.

The deployment of Viktor Leonov was months in the making, Fox News was told. The ship is part of Russia’s Northern Fleet based along the Barents Sea. The ship crossed the Atlantic and made a port call in Jamaica in the past few weeks, according to officials.

The Russian spy ship's venture near the U.S. mainland follows other recent Russian provocations -- four Russian jets buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea on Friday, coming within 200 yards of USS Porter. The Russian jets had their identifying transponders turned off and ignored repeated radio calls from the American warship.

It was the first time Russian jets buzzed a U.S. warship since President Trump assumed office.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy , a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, which includes NATO and U.S.-Russia policy, released the following statement:

"While this is not wholly unprecedented, it’s part of a series of aggressive actions by Russia that threaten U.S. national security and the security of our allies. Just yesterday, news broke that Russia violated an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Coupled with escalating fighting in eastern Ukraine and Russian jets buzzing a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea, Putin clearly thinks the Trump administration has given him a permission slip to flex his muscles. President Trump and his administration must end their silence and immediately respond to these threats to our national security.”

Congressman Joe Courtney, a ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, spoke on the House floor about a Russian war ship patrolling in waters off eastern Connecticut.

Russia was also deploying for the first time a ground-based nuke-capable cruise missile inside Russia, which violates a decades old arms treaty between Moscow and Washington.day.

The ground-launched cruise missile seems to run counter to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the senior military official said. The New York Times first reported is deployment.

While declining to speak on intelligence matters, a spokesman for the US State Department did draw attention to Russian violations of the treaty.

"The Russian Federation remains in violation of its INF Treaty obligations not to possess, produce or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles," acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Russia is believed to have tested one such missile in 2014.

"We have made very clear our concerns about Russia's violation, the risks it poses to European and Asian security, and our strong interest in returning Russia to compliance with the treaty," Toner added.

Just last week, a US navy warship in the Black Sea had three encounters with Russian aircraft Friday that were deemed to be unsafe and unprofessional because of how close the Russian planes flew to the US, according to a senior defense official.

The USS Porter, a destroyer, was operating in the Black Sea when it was approached three times by Russian aircraft, including one IL-38 and two SU-24s. The Navy calculated the Russian planes may be have flown as close as 1,000 yards laterally from the ship and 1,000 feet over the water, but did not cross the deck of the Porter.

Moscow pushed back on the allegation Tuesday, with Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov telling Russian state media "there has been no incident on February 10th involving flybys of Russian military planes in the Black Sea next to USS Porter."

The Kremlin's moves come the day after Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign after failing to fully disclose conversations he had with Russia's ambassador to the US concerning US sanctions while he was not yet in office.

Trump has in the past expressed interest in arms reduction talks with the Kremlin and indicated he would seek a new opening with Moscow.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that, "The president has been incredibly tough on Russia."

CNN contributed to this report.

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