Why the Russian spy ship off the East Coast matters

FILE - Russian warship Viktor Leonov enters the bay in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – One foreign policy expert says a Russian spy ship lingering off the east coast of the United States isn’t all that unusual, but is significant when combined with other recent events.

According to CBS News, the Russian intelligence gathering ship “The Viktor Leonov,” was seen patrolling in waters 30 miles south of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut.

Michael Kennedy of Brown University’s Watson Institute says Russian naval vessels in international waters near American coastlines are “not a big deal,” but says that incident along with the testing of a Russian cruise missile, and the buzzing of a U.S. Navy destroyer by a jetfighter, magnifies the incident.

“Because [the Russian spy ship] is tied to at least two things that are a big deal, that’s critical,” Kennedy said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “So [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is now pushing and testing Trump.”

He said the moves are “putting Trump on notice that he better play the playbook that Putin has shared, not the playbook that the Democrats and responsible Republicans are offering.”

Jim Ludes, executive director of Salve Regina’s Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, says Putin is playing “a really aggressive game.”

“There is a strategic approach by the Kremlin to undermine NATO, to undermine the [European Union],” Ludes said. “And I would argue to further isolate the U.S. from its traditional partners in Europe.”

During a press conference on Thursday, President Trump blasted the news media for publishing leaks regarding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russian officials prior to the inauguration. Flynn was forced to resign because Trump said Flynn was dishonest to Vice President Mike Pence when asked about the conversations.

Ludes said White House leaks are not unusual but the current situation may be a sign that certain intelligence officials are concerned with the administrations ties to Russia.

“It’s leaking now, I’m convinced, because there are dedicated patriotic Americans, who are not partisan, who are worried that these investigations are going to be short circuited,” Ludes said. “I think we really need to be talking about how do we get to the bottom of this because the partisan committees in congress are not going to be able to answer these questions.”

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook