Russian subs patrolling off US coast

Russian subs patrolling off US coast

The episode has echoes of the cold war era, when the United States and the Soviet Union regularly parked submarines off each other’s coasts to steal military secrets, track the movements of their underwater fleets — and be poised for war.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union all but eliminated the ability of the Russian Navy to operate far from home ports, making the current submarine patrols, thousands of miles from Russia, more surprising for military officials and defence policy experts.

“I don’t think they’ve put two first-line nuclear subs off the US coast in about 15 years,” said Norman Polmar, a naval historian and submarine warfare expert.

The submarines are of the Akula class, a counterpart to the Los Angeles class attack subs of the United States Navy, and not one of the larger submarines that can launch intercontinental nuclear missiles. According to defence department officials, one of the Russian submarines remained in international waters on Tuesday about 200 miles off the coast of the US. The location of the second remained unclear.

One senior official said the second submarine travelled south in recent days toward Cuba, while another senior official with access to reports on the surveillance mission, said it had sailed away in a northerly direction.

The Pentagon and intelligence officials spoke anonymously to describe the effort to track the Russian submarines, which has not been publicly announced. President Obama spoke by telephone with President Dmitri A Medvedev of Russia on Tuesday, but it was not clear whether the subject of the submarines came up.

Medvedev called Obama to wish him a happy birthday and the White House said the president used the opportunity to urge Russia to work through diplomatic channels to resolve rising tensions with Georgia.

While the Russian submarines have not taken any provocative action beyond their presence outside territorial waters of the United States, officials expressed wariness over the Kremlin’s motivation for ordering such an unusual mission.