Russian warships, including nuclear sub, missile frigate, will arrive in Cuba next week

Three Russian Navy ships and a nuclear-powered submarine will arrive at the Port of Havana for an official visit next week, the Cuban armed forces said in a statement Thursday, confirming the military exercises first disclosed by U.S. officials on Wednesday.

The Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces said the Russian missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov, the nuclear sub Kazan, the oil tanker Pashin and the salvage tug Nikolai Chiker will arrive on June 12 and stay for a week.

The Cuban military said the visit by the Russian Navy ships is part of the “friendly” relations between the two countries, complies with international law and does not pose a security threat to the region because “none of the ships carry nuclear weapons.”

A U.S. official told McClatchy and the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the exercises are expected to include “heightened naval and air activity near the United States,” involving both Russian aircraft and combat naval vessels – the first coordinated air and sea exercise by Russia in the Western Hemisphere in five years.

“While we are disappointed that Cuba has likely agreed to host visiting Russian ships, we are not surprised,” the official said Thursday. While one of the ships is a nuclear-powered submarine, the official said that the U.S. intelligence community “assesses it is not carrying nuclear weapons, and poses no direct threat to the national security of the United States.”

Administration officials suspect that Cuba approved the Russian port call “at least in part” over an incident last year in which a U.S. nuclear submarine docked at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, angering the Cubans, the U.S. official said.

“We are not surprised by it given Russia’s long history of Cuban port calls,” the official said. “These are routine naval visits that are part of Russian military exercises, which have ratcheted up because of U.S. support to Ukraine and exercise activity in support of our NATO allies.”

The warships are part of the Russian Navy Northern fleet and departed on May 17 on “a long voyage... to demonstrate the Russian flag and ensure naval presence in important areas of the distant oceanic zone,” the Russian government news agency Tass reported Thursday.

According to the Tass report, the Admiral Gorshkov frigate held an artillery fire exercise at an air target in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship “fired AK-192M artillery complex and Palash antiaircraft missiles at an imitated air target,” the report says.

The warship joined the Navy in 2018 and was updated to carry hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles, a new complex and expensive missile recently developed by Russia.

The Kazan submarine also joined the fleet recently in 2021 and can carry long-range precision missiles capable of destroying land, sea and underwater targets, Tass reported in April.

The Cuban government did not mention military exercises in its statement but highlighted “cultural” activities.

“During their stay, the Russian sailors will carry out a program of activities that includes courtesy visits to the Chief of the Revolutionary War Navy and the Governor of Havana. They will also visit places of historical and cultural interest.”

According to the U.S. Navy Institute, Russian submarines have been visiting Cuban ports since 1969. Russian spy ships have been spotted unannounced at the port of Havana on several occasions, including ahead of Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, days before U.S.-Cuba talks in Havana in 2015 and on March 2018. The Russian navy’s training class ship Perekop sailed into Havana in July last year.