Washington – As news of a Russian “spy ship” loitering 30 miles from Groton made the rounds of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, Democrats wove the incident into their demands for investigations of President Trump’s relationship with Russia.
“Residents of Connecticut should know that the arrival of the Victor Leonov, a Russian intelligence ship, 30 miles off of our coast yesterday does not present a direct threat to our physical safety,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, “Its appearance is troubling, however, viewed in conjunction with the ongoing stories of Russian ties and interference in the Trump Administration and the recent deployment of a Russian cruise missile in apparent violation of international agreements.”
An unnamed U.S. officials this week told several news outlets that the Kremlin had secretly deployed controversial cruise missiles inside Russia.
In a view shared by other Democrats, Himes said, ‘In my opinion, Russia is making a show of strength and pushing established boundaries and norms to gauge the reaction of a new administration in disarray.”
Sen. Chris Murphy said the sighting of the Russian ship so close to U.S. shores “is not wholly unprecedented,” but that “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin clearly thinks the Trump administration has given him a permission slip to flex his muscles.”
A Pentagon official said “we’re not concerned,” but the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are “keeping a close eye on it.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal said, “I am personally monitoring this situation and remain in close contact with both the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard.”
And Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who represents Groton, said in a statement that, “A Russian spy ship patrolling 30 miles from the Groton SUBASE underscores that the threats posed by a resurgent Russia are real.”
“While I have total confidence in our Navy’s vigilant, responsible readiness, the White House needs to move past their seeming infatuation with Putin and treat him like the serious threat to global peace and security that he has been for the last five years,” Courtney said.
That a Russian ship was spotted near where the United States builds nuclear submarines, Electric Boat’s shipyard, was cited as another reason to back a new bill that would prevent the Trump administration from easing sanctions against Russia without congressional approval.
“There is a Russian spy ship floating thirty miles off Groton, Connecticut, where the United States builds nuclear submarines,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., a co-sponsor of the legislation. ‘“The last thing the United States should be considering, in the face of this provocation is dialing back sanctions on Russia now. If anything, we should probably increase them. But for now we need to do all we can to ensure that these measures remain in place so long as Putin’s hostile and illegal activities continue.”
The spy ship and cruise missile incidents aren’t the only provocation to the United States from Russia this week.
On Friday, a Russian Ilyushin Il-38 surveillance aircraft flew near the USS Porter, a guided-missile destroyer, in international waters of the Black Sea, according to a Tuesday statement from EUCOM spokesman Lt. Col. David Faggard. On Capitol Hill lawmakers spoke of a drip, drip, drip of Russian aggression.
“While Russia continues to flex its muscle by deploying a cruise missile that violates a long-standing arms treaty, buzzing U.S. naval ships in international waters, and floating an intelligence ship along our coast, President Trump has failed to show leadership and condemn Vladimir Putin and his Russian regime,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District. “All of these events raise the question of why Russia has decided to make these aggressive moves now.”
The resignation of National Security Council chief Michael Flynn this week after reports he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials fueled the fire.
“With Michael Flynn’s illegal contact with the Russian ambassador, the Trump campaign’s conversations with Russia during the election, and the Russian government hacking e-mails, Vladimir Putin continues to make efforts to undermine our democracy,” DeLauro said.
Concerns in Congress over Russia’s ties ratchted up after the New York Times reported phone call records and intercepted calls showed members of Trump’s presidential campaign – including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort – and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the Nov. 8 election. Manafort denied that he knowingly had any contact with Russian agents.
Democrats, including Blumethal, called for either the appointment of a special counsel or a bipartisan commission to investigate the matter.
But even some Senate Republicans are concerned about the Russia issue.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “General Flynn’s resignation raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”
Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn, a Trump supporter, said the Russia issue was threatening Trump’s agenda on both foreign affairs and domestic policy and questioned whether the White House was able to recover. Corker also suggested Flynn should testify before Congress.
Correction: The approach by a Russian aircraft to the USS Porter in the Black Sea took place on Friday and was disclosed publicly by the U.S. military Tuesday. An earlier version of this story said the approach took place Tuesday.