Russian warships enter Havana harbor under Washington’s watchful eye

A Russian frigate and submarine conducted missile drills in the Atlantic en route to Cuba

The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, part of a Russian naval detachment visiting Cuba, arriving at Havana's harbour. Photograph: Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images

Russian navy ships churned into Havana harbour on Wednesday, a stopover the US and Cuba said posed no threat but which was widely seen as a Russian show of force as tensions rise over the Ukraine war.

Small groups of fishermen and curious onlookers lined the Malecon seafront boulevard to welcome the ships as they passed the 400-year-old Morro castle at the harbour’s entrance.

The first to arrive was a fuel ship, Akademik Pashin, and a tug, Nikolay Chiker, while a Russian navy frigate and nuclear powered submarine waited offshore and were expected to enter the harbour by midmorning.

The frigate and submarine had conducted missile drills in the Atlantic en route to the island, Russia’s defence ministry said the previous day.


Cuba said last week that the visit was standard practice by naval vessels from countries friendly to Havana. The communist-run government’s foreign ministry said the ships carried no nuclear weapons, something echoed by US officials.

“We have been monitoring the ships’ paths closely,” a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity late on Tuesday. “At no point have the ships or submarine posed a direct threat to the United States.”

Havana is 160km from Key West, Florida, home to a US naval air station. And the timing of the visit – as president Joe Biden’s administration ponders how far to go in helping defend Ukraine against Russia – suggests more than “standard practice”, said William Leogrande, a professor at American University.

“The visiting Russian warships are [Vladimir] Putin’s way of reminding Biden that Moscow can challenge Washington in its own sphere of influence,” Mr Leogrande said.

The stopover also coincides with Cuba’s worst social and economic crisis in decades, with shortages of everything from food, medicine and fuel and growing discontent on the streets. “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,” Mr Leogrande said.

History looms large in Cuba, especially when it comes to Russia and its predecessor the Soviet Union. The Cuban missile crisis erupted in 1962 when the Soviet Union responded to a US missile deployment in Turkey by sending ballistic missiles to Cuba, sparking a standoff that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Russia and Cuba are once again strengthening ties. Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel visited Russian president Mr Putin for the fourth time in May, when he attended a military parade and said Moscow could always count on Havana’s support.

Russia in March delivered 90,000 metric tons of Russian oil to Cuba to help alleviate shortages, and has promised to help Havana in projects ranging from sugar production to infrastructure, renewable energy and tourism.

The Russian navy ships are expected to remain in Havana until June 17th.

– Reuters

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