MOSCOW – A senior Russian military official said Wednesday that Russian nuclear-powered attack submarines spotted off the U.S. East Coast were on a legitimate training mission.
U.S. defense officials said Tuesday that two Russian submarines had been patrolling in international waters for several days. While the activity was reminiscent of the Cold War, the U.S. officials said the submarines had done nothing to provoke concern.
Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a deputy chief of the General Staff of the Russian military, said the patrols were part of efforts to give more training to the military forces.
"The Navy mustn't rest dockside," Nogovitsyn said at a news conference.
The submarine patrols coincided with angry words from Moscow about U.S. military assistance to Georgia a year after the Russian-Georgian war.
The August war drove U.S.-Russian relations to a post-Cold War low. President Barack Obama has sought to overcome the strain and improve ties. But U.S. officials said that they have not ruled out providing defensive weapon systems for Georgia despite warnings by Russia.
The U.S. is discussing a Georgian request for $16 million in military aid this year, with most of the money intended for training and technical assistance.
Grigory Karasin, a deputy Russian Foreign Minister, said Wednesday that Moscow was seriously concerned by the U.S. military assistance to Georgia. "That worries us and forces us to take relevant steps," he said without elaboration.
Nogovitsyn said that U.S. submarines had also engaged in missions off Russia's coast, but wouldn't provide any details.
"It's a normal thing," Nogovitsyn said about submarine patrols.
During the Cold War times, U.S. and Soviet submarines routinely played cat-and-mouse near each other's shores, surveying the adversary's movements.
Nogovitsyn compared the Russian submarine deployment off the U.S. coast to regular patrol flights by Russian strategic bombers, saying both were necessary to improve crews skills.
The 1991 Soviet collapse forced the military to drastically cut training due to severe money crunch. But cash from the oil bonanza during Vladimir Putin's eight-year presidential tenure allowed the military to boost military spending and conduct more maneuvers.
Putin, now prime minister, has sought to showcase the Kremlin's global reach and reassert its claim to great-power status amid strained ties with the West. In 2007, he ordered the resumption of border patrols.
Putin's successor, President Dmitry Medvedev, also pledged to deploy Russian forces on regular maneuvers worldwide.
Last fall, a Russian Navy squadron sailed for Venezuela and held joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy in the first Russian deployment to the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War.
Russia recently also has deployed its navy ships to the Mediterranean and dispatched some to pirate-infested waters off Somalia, reflecting its determination to project power worldwide.
But analysts say that the Russian navy now is still only a shadow of what it was during Cold War times. It suffered a new humiliating blow last month, when the prospective Bulava missile intended to equip new Russian nuclear submarines again failed during a test launch — the seventh failure in its 11 test launches so far.