Russian navy vessels to dock in Havana, Cuba insists no threat

Havana says fleet does not have nuclear weapons, but arrival comes amid rising tensions between Russia and the United States over Ukraine.

Russian Navy Admiral Gorshkov frigate arrives at the port of Havana, Cuba
The Russian Navy's Admiral Gorshkov frigate arriving in Havana on a previous trip in 2019 [Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo]

Four Russian vessels, including a nuclear-powered submarine, will arrive in Havana next week, Cuban officials have said.

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday that the vessels, none of which carry any nuclear weapons, will dock in the Cuban capital between June 12 and 17, assuring that their presence “does not represent a threat to the region”.

“This visit corresponds to the historical friendly relations between Cuba and the Russian Federation and strictly adheres to the international regulations,” said the ministry in a statement.

But the unusual deployment of the powerful nuclear submarine Kazan and three other naval vessels so close to the United States comes amid major tensions over the war in Ukraine. Cuba and the US are only about 145km (90 miles) apart at their closest point.

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested this week that Moscow could take “asymmetrical” steps if Western countries like Germany and the US were to supply Ukraine with weapons that were then used on Russian soil.

He claimed that the use of certain weapons, including the use of advanced missile technology, would be tantamount to participation in Russia’s war with Ukraine.

The US and others have stressed that the weapons can only be used in border areas from where Russia has launched a series of attacks on Ukraine in recent weeks.

A US official told reporters on Wednesday that Russia had plans to send combat vessels into the Caribbean region to conduct naval exercises, noting that while Washington did not see their arrival as threatening, the US Navy would monitor the exercises.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said that, in addition to the Kazan, the visiting Russian vessels will include the frigate Gorshkov, the fleet oil tanker Pashin and the salvage tug Nikolay Chiker.

During the fleet’s arrival at the port of Havana, 21 salvos will be fired from one of the ships as a salute to the nation, which will be reciprocated by an artillery battery of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, the Foreign Ministry said.

Relations between Russia and Cuba have become closer since a 2022 meeting between Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Putin. The pair met last month for the annual May 9 military parade on Red Square outside the Kremlin.

During the Cold War, Cuba was an important client state for the Soviet Union. The deployment of Soviet nuclear missile sites on the island triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when Washington and Moscow came close to war. The incident led to the US imposing a trade embargo on Cuba, which remains in force.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies