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Navy tracks Russian warships as they sail near US en route to Cuba

Russia's Ministry of Defense released video this week of Russian military vessels practicing naval maneuvers somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Russian Navy Admiral Gorshkov frigate arrives at the port of Havana, Cuba.
Posted at 2:14 PM, Jun 12, 2024

Russian warships arrived in Havana's harbor on Wednesday, part of Vladimir Putin's efforts to project power amid the Russian war on Ukraine and the U.S. decision to allow Ukraine to use American weapons to attack inside parts of Russia.

The Cuban government said the visit is part of a military exercise between the two nations, a mark of what they call the "historically friendly relations" between Cuba and Russia.

While there is precedent for this kind of Russian military exercise in Cuba, experts said this one comes at a delicate time.

"The Kremlin continues to be upset about the West and the United States providing support for the Ukrainians," said Andrew D'Anieri of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council.

Russia's Ministry of Defense released video this week of Russian military vessels practicing naval maneuvers somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, the U.S. Navy posted photos on social media, which showed their own joint operation with the Canadian Navy — also in the Atlantic.

All of it is happening around this week's visit to Cuba — an island nation that sits just 90 miles from Florida — by three Russian warships carrying hypersonic missiles, along with a nuclear-powered submarine, albeit one not carrying nuclear weapons, according to the Cuban government.

"This is something that we've seen in the past. I think what's unusual about it is the context in which it currently takes place," said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Berg said the war in Ukraine adds a new dimension to Russian military exercises in the Caribbean.

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"Certainly, the presence of the Russians allows them to say that they are able to project power, military power into the Western Hemisphere, just as the United States is able to do so in the European theater," he said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has hit the Russian navy hard in the Black Sea.

"They're bleeding ships in the Black Sea. Something around one-third of their Black Sea fleet has been sunk by the Ukrainians through innovative methods, through the use of drones and missiles. So, this is a navy that has lost quite a bit of its prestige in the Ukraine campaign," Berg said. "Russia can ill afford to have too many of its ships in the Western Hemisphere while it's actively prosecuting a war in the European theater."

That means any comparison to the Cuban Missile Crisis — when the Soviet Union deployed nuclear missiles to Cuba in the 1960s — may be overstating the current reality, according to D'Anieri.

"This is nowhere near the Cuban Missile Crisis. We're not anywhere close to nuclear war. There are American ships actually tracking the activities of these Russian ships as they make their way toward Cuba," D'Anieri said. "So, I think this is actually quite under control, but more of a messaging thing for the Kremlin — and we should be careful not to read too much into this as an escalation threat."

The Russian Defense Ministry said that while it was in the Atlantic, it conducted computer-simulated attacks aiming at mock targets that were 370 miles away. The Russian military vessels are expected to remain in Cuba for five days.