Russian Nuclear Submarine Commander Says His Vessels Sailed Near Navy Base on U.S. Coast—But Pentagon Doesn't Seem Concerned

The commander of a division of Russian nuclear submarines boasted in a documentary on state-controlled television that his vessels sailed undetected near a U.S. navy base on the American coast. 

Sergei Starshinov, commander of a division of Akula-class, Shchuka-B submarines, made the claim on Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian Ministry of Defense. He did not mention the specific submarines involved, but the channel noted they were part of Project 971 of the Northern Front fleet.

Another website, Rossiyskoe Orujie (Russian Arms), part of the Russian government's official daily paper of record Rossiyskaya Gazeta, reported that the incident took place in the general area of the Bay of Mexico in 2013, with the submarines positioning themselves within a missile strike's distance of "a key American submarine base." 

In footage posted by the channel, Starshinov and his interviewer can be seen strolling between two docked submarines, with gangwalks bearing the names Pantera (Panther) and Tigr (Tiger). It is not clear if those were the submarines that took part in the operation, but Rossiyskoe Orujie reported that the Panther was recently upgraded with a 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missile system and the Tiger was designed with particularly refined stealth capabilities. 

The short video posted on the Zvezda site was meant to promote a documentary about the Russian submarine corps, due to be broadcast on Sunday. The clip was removed from the site shortly before the publication of this article but could still be viewed on Google's cache service.  

In the clip, Starshinov said the attack submarines got close to the U.S. coast, in particular an American military base. He stressed they remained in international waters before they left "undetected," never crossing the U.S. maritime border.

Akula class Russian attack submarine The crew of Russia's Akula-class, nuclear-powered attack submarine Samara lines up on its deck during a naval parade rehearsal in Vladivostok, Russia, on July 23, 2010. REUTERS/Yuri Maltsev

The drill was to test the submarines’ ability to get as close to U.S. shores as possible without being spotted. It’s not clear if the submarines were in fact undetected or just didn’t realize they were being watched.

The Pentagon wouldn’t say if it was aware of the drill described by the Russian commander, who didn’t disclose the time or date of the event.

“We recognize the rights of all sovereign nations to freely navigate in international waters and to visit countries they have agreements with,” U.S. Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis told Newsweek.

“The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Fleet Forces track all vessels, foreign and domestic, within the North American Aerospace Defense Command's and U.S. Northern Command's Area of Responsibility, as well their cargo and any anticipated U.S. port visits. However, we will not comment specifically on what vessels we may or may not be tracking.”

Relations between Russia and the West are worsening. Russia was accused by the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and France of being behind the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence convicted of spying for the U.K., and his daughter Yulia, on British soil.

They were poisoned with a Russian-made nerve agent called Novichok in Salisbury, England. Both remain critically ill in the hospital. The Kremlin denies any involvement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently unveiled the development of a new hypersonic nuclear weapon—the RS-28 Sarmat—which he claims is capable of breaching American air defenses. NATO refers to the nuclear missile as "Satan 2."