Trump Noncommittal on Response to Russian Spy Ship
"Do nothing" and "shoot it right out of the water" were two possible courses of action President Donald Trump mentioned Thursday with regards to a Russian intelligence ship that has been loitering in international waters off the East Coast.
Trump mentioned Russia 56 times during a wide-ranging and rambling 80-minute press conference but ultimately refused to provide any insight into his plans regarding the presence of the Vishnya-class ship Viktor Leonov, which has been slowly moving down the coast, briefly lingering about 30 miles offshore of New London, Connecticut -- home to a Navy submarine base -- before transiting toward Norfolk, Virginia.
Trump used the ship as a talking point in defense of what some have perceived as his close relationship with Russia.
"If we could get along with Russia, that's a positive thing," he said. "We have a very talented man, [Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson, who's probably going to be meeting with them shortly and I told him. I said, 'I know politically, it's probably not good for me.' The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that's 30 miles offshore right out of the water."
Asked by a reporter about the presence of the ship as well as other recent provocations -- including a Feb. 10 incident last week in which the guided-missile destroyer Porter was "buzzed" by multiple Russian fighter aircraft while it conducted operations in the Black Sea, and the test launch of a Russian intercontinental ballistic missile in January -- Trump repeatedly called the incidents "not good."
He connected the three incidents, saying they were "doing the same thing," but said he wasn't going to tell the public anything "about the response I do."
"So when you ask me what am I going to do with a ship, the Russian ship as an example, I'm not going to tell you," he said. "But hopefully, I won't have to do anything, but I'm not going to tell you."
From an international law perspective, the Russian spy ship has been operating within accepted norms, which recognize a nation's territorial waters as extending 12 miles from the shoreline. The U.S. Navy follows the same protocols when it conducts routine patrols around the world and freedom of navigation operations in contested regions such as the South China Sea.
Notably, it's not the first time the Viktor Leonov has been spotted lurking offshore. It was also observed off the East Coast, ostensibly to gather intelligence on U.S. submarine operations, in 2014 and 2015.
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