Politics & News

Show of Force: Russian Warships Arrive in Cuba

A fleet of Russian warships has on Wednesday arrived in the bay of Havana in a visit seen as a show of strength amid growing tensions over Western support for Ukraine.

The vessels, including a nuclear-powered submarine, will participate in military exercises in the Caribbean. Their arrival in Cuba signals the strengthening ties between Moscow and Havana in the light of Russia’s war on Ukraine and Cuba’s dependence on Russian oil and aid.

Warships Arrival

Four vessels, including the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, a rescue tug, and an oil tanker, entered Havana Bay early on Wednesday after drills in the Atlantic Ocean. The flagship frigate was greeted by 21-cannon salute, reported the Associated Press (AP).

US officials expect Russian ships to remain in the region throughout the summer and to possibly stop in Venezuela.

Show of Force: Russian Warships Arrive in Cuba
Russia’s nuclear-powered submarine Kazan

According to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, the warships’ drills in the Atlantic featured practicing the use of high-precision missile weapons. The submarine and frigate carry Zircon hypersonic missiles, Kalibr cruise missiles and Onyx anti-ship missiles.

Show of Force

Although Russia, Venezuela and Cuba are longtime allies, and Russian warships and aircrafts have periodically entered the Caribbean, the timing of the visit suggests more than standard practice. It comes less than two weeks after US President Joe Biden authorized Ukraine to use American-made weapons to strike inside Russia.

This has prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to say his military could respond with “asymmetrical steps” elsewhere in the world. In this respect, director of the Latin America Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, Benjamin Gedan, said: “Most of all, the warships are a reminder to Washington that it is unpleasant when an adversary meddles in your near abroad,” referring to the Western involvement in Ukraine war.

“It also reminds Russia’s friends in the region, including US antagonists Cuba and Venezuela, that Moscow is on their side,” he added.

Furthermore, Havana is located 160 km away from Key West, Florida, home to a US Naval Air Station. William Leogrande, a professor at American University, told Reuters: “The visiting Russian warships are Putin’s way of reminding Biden that Moscow can challenge Washington in its own sphere of influence.”

No Threat to the US

A senior US administration official told the AP that the intelligence community determined that the Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan is not carrying nuclear weapons. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that Moscow’s deployments “pose no direct threat to the US.”

Show of Force: Russian Warships Arrive in Cuba
People watching frigate Admiral Gorshkov

Similarly, a US State Department spokesperson told AP that Russia’s port calls in Cuba are “routine naval visits.” However, he acknowledged that Russia’s military exercises “have ratcheted up because of US support to Ukraine and exercise activity in support of our NATO allies.”

Strengthening Ties

Ties between Russia and Cuba date back to the Cold War era. Cuba briefly hosted nuclear missiles at Moscow’s behest during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. This sparked a standoff that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Both countries are once again strengthening their ties. On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodríguez, for talks in Moscow. Lavrov thanked the Cuban authorities for their position on Ukraine.

In this regard, Ryan Berg, director of the Americas Program at Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that Russian military and defense doctrine gives Latin America and the Caribbean a significant position, acting as a counterweight to Washington’s activities in Europe.

He told AP: “While this is likely little more than provocation from Moscow, it sends a message about Russia’s ability to project power into the Western Hemisphere with the help of its allies, and it will certainly keep the US military on high alert while they are in theater.”

Commenting on the Russian warships’ arrival in Cuba, Leogrande said: “This … has echoes of the Cold War, but unlike the first Cold War, the Cubans are drawn to Moscow not by ideological affinity but by economic necessity.”

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