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Moscow revives gunboat diplomacy with nuclear submarine visit to Cuba

In this photo taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, June 11, 2024, navy personnel take part in drills on board of the Russian Kazan n
In this photo taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, June 11, 2024, navy personnel take part in drills on board of the Russian Kazan n Copyright AP/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service
Copyright AP/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service
By Sergio Cantone
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Russia's top-of-the-line nuclear submarine Kazan is about to dock in the port of Havana together with the Korshakov missile launcher frigate. The Kremlin's hazardous move in the Caribbean responds to the alleged US meddling in Eastern Europe.

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A fleet of Russian warships reached Cuban waters on Wednesday ahead of planned military exercises in the Caribbean.

The military vessels flying the Saint Andrew's banner — the flag of the Russian navy — are being carefully observed by the US Navy, which is particularly interested in getting a closer look at the rival fleet's military capacity.

The group is composed of two Russian Navy crown jewels: the nuclear-powered Yasen-class cruise missile submarine Kazan and the Russian missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov.

Two auxiliary vessels, an oil tanker and a salvage tug, support the two sea combat units.

War games under the Caribbean sun?

The ships have been conducting exercises “on the use of precision missile weapons in the Atlantic Ocean” on their way to Cuba, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Alexander Moiseyev said.

This under-the-spotlight return of the Russian military presence to Cuba has been welcomed by the regime in Havana after years of isolation since the last days of the Soviet Union in 1989 — the year of the last visit to the island by a Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachov.

"During the exercise, the crews of the frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine have been practising the use of high-precision missile weapons by means of computer modelling against sea targets, which indicate ship groups of the conditional enemy and are located at a distance of more than 600 kilometres," Admiral Moiseyev added.

n this photo taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, June 11, 2024, the Russian navy's Admiral Gorshkov frigate is seen en route to Cub
n this photo taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, June 11, 2024, the Russian navy's Admiral Gorshkov frigate is seen en route to CubAP/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

The ships have passed within a few dozen kilometres of the Florida coast, according to sources in the Russian ministry of defence.

White House spokesman John Kirby said earlier that the US was monitoring the situation surrounding the visit of Russian Navy ships to Cuba but "did not see it as a threat to its national security".

Shark hunting near Miami

The US Navy has been following the wake of the nuclear submarine with the P-8 Poseidon “submarine hunter” plane.

Cuba's foreign ministry said the Russian warships will stay in Havana until next Monday, noting that none of them currently carry nuclear weapons and assuring that their presence “does not pose a threat to the region”.

Havana wants to avoid any parallel with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 when the Soviet attempt to deploy nuclear warheads on the communist-ruled island just 150 kilometres from the continental US brought the world to the verge of World War III.

This is not the first time Russia has sent its warships to the Caribbean, but the visit came in the wake of President Vladimir Putin's warning that Moscow could respond to a decision by Western allies of Ukraine to allow Kyiv to use its weapons to strike targets in Russia by providing similar weapons to Western adversaries around the world.

The mission of the military ships is also aiding the Russian political approach to the Global South, where it wants to demonstrate its capacity for flexing its military might as well as brag about the strength of its navy after the blows inflicted on it by the Ukrainian drones and missiles against the Black Sea fleet.

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