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Russian spy ship returns to East Coast of US

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A Russian spy ship that made a foray near a U.S. Navy submarine base in Connecticut in February is once again in international waters off the East Coast of the United States, presumably to monitor activity at American Navy bases.

The Viktor Leonov spy ship is now 50 miles east of the U.S. Navy's submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia, according to a defense official. The ship traveled there from a port in Havana, Cuba, where it docked for five days.

The Leonov's earlier visit off the Eastern Seaboard in mid-February drew international attention although American officials noted at the time that the visits have become a regular occurrence in recent years.

For one day in February, the ship was offshore of the U.S. Navy submarine base in New London, Connecticut, the furthest north the Russian intelligence ship had ever traveled up the East Coast of the United States.

Following that brief stop off New England, the Leonov headed south where it spent almost two weeks east of the U.S. Navy base at Norfolk, Virginia.

The Leonov then slowly continued south to Florida where it remained far offshore before stopping in Cuba.

Throughout its travels up and down the U.S. coast, the Leonov has remained in international waters beyond the U.S. territorial limit that extends 12 miles out from shore.

U.S. officials in February downplayed the Leonov's presence off the coast, noting the ship had made prior visits in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

“There’s been a lot made of this Russian ship, the Viktor Leonov, reported to be off the East Coast of the U.S.," Capt. Jeff Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in February. "It’s not something we’ve seen where they’ve entered U.S. territorial waters, and as such its lawful and very similar to operations we do in places around the world.”

Davis noted that the Leonov, which carries electronic surveillance equipment and some weapons for self-defense, "is not armed with any types of weapons that would present a threat to the U.S. homeland or population."

"We know from past activities that they are very interested in things like the submarine base at New London, Connecticut, and many other naval facilities from Florida to Virginia," he added.

"They do routinely deploy intelligence-collection vessels worldwide to monitor the activities, particularly naval activities, of other nations, conducted lawfully in internationally waters and not unlike operations we conduct ourselves," said Davis.

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