Russian spy ship off Georgia was reportedly watching SpaceX launch

The Viktor Leonov CCB-175, a Russian Navy intelligence warship, reportedly was monitoring a recent SpaceX launch.

Credit: Chip Somodevilla

caption arrowCaption
The Viktor Leonov CCB-175, a Russian Navy intelligence warship, reportedly was monitoring a recent SpaceX launch.

Credit: Chip Somodevilla

Credit: Chip Somodevilla

Viktor Leonov was operating erratically off SE coast this week

A Russian spy ship that was operating erratically and unsafely off Georgia’s coast reportedly was watching Monday’s SpaceX launch of a commercial communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The U.S. Coast Guard received reports during the weekend that the RFN Viktor Leonov was operating in an unsafe manner off the Georgia and South Carolina coasts, according to the U.S. Naval Institute. In a bulletin, the Coast Guard said the Russian surveillance ship was not using its running lights "while in reduced visibility conditions, not responding to hails by commercial vessels attempting to coordinate safe passage and other erratic movements."

Georgia's nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay was initially thought to be the ship's focus. But on Thursday, the Washington Times reported the Russian spy ship was observing SpaceX's launch capabilities.

The Coast Guard’s notice advised boaters to “maintain a sharp lookout and use extreme caution when navigating in proximity to this vessel.” The Coast Guard said Russia’s Navy has a long history of sending surveillance ships to monitor U.S. naval bases off the East Coast, including Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia; and Naval Station Mayport, Florida.

The Leonov was reported off Kings Bay in 2018.

“We are aware of Russia’s naval activities, including the deployment of intelligence collection ships in the region,” a U.S. Northern Command spokesperson said.