What Russia’s Naval Presence in Cuba Means

An expert has said that the fleet of Russian warships in Cuba poses a “limited threat” to the U.S. mainland and its Navy, but the move by Russian President Vladimir Putin is not unprecedented.

Retired Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery told Digital that U.S. assets in the area are more than capable of outmaneuvering the three warships and lone nuclear submarine that arrived in Cuba on Wednesday. 

“There have been three of these incidents in the past 20 years, so it’s a traditional, normal-sized deployment despite being infrequent,” Montgomery said, though he did note the inclusion of the submarine is “somewhat more interesting.”

The naval ships included three vessels accompanied by small boats. The flagship frigate, adorned with the Russian and Cuban flags, was greeted by 21-cannon salutes in Cuba’s Havana Harbor. Sailors in dress uniform stood in as they approached the island.

submarine Kazan arrived soon after the warships. Cuba’s foreign ministry said last week that the ships will be in Havana until June 17.

Montogomery said the Kazan is potentially equipped with hypersonic anti-ship missiles that could pose a threat to U.S. naval assets in the region. The flagship, Admiral Gorshkov, is also in possession of anti-ship cruise missiles. The vessels are not carrying nuclear weapons, Cuba’s foreign ministry said.

Nevertheless, Montogomery said he was confident that none of the vessels were capable of hunting down U.S. submarines, saying the opposite is more likely.

The U.S. response will likely be limited to sending scout aircraft and potentially some surface vessels to “shadow” the Russian group as it conducts military exercises in the Caribbean.

Tensions between the United States and Moscow have grown since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Biden administration has provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in military aid to fend off

Russian military and defense doctrine holds Latin America and the Caribbean in an important position, with the sphere seen as under U.S. influence acting as a counterweight to Washington’s activities in Europe, said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“While this is likely little more than provocation from Moscow, it sends a message about Russia’s ability to project power into the Western Hemisphere with the help of its allies, and it will certainly keep the U.S. military on high alert while they are in theater,” Berg said.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodríguez, for talks in Moscow. Lavrov thanked Cuban authorities for their position on Ukraine.