Pentagon downplays Russian warships arriving in Cuba

U.S. Navy ships shadowed the Russian ships as they headed to Havana.

June 13, 2024, 5:20 PM

The Pentagon is downplaying Wednesday's arrival of four Russian Navy ships in Cuba as U.S. officials acknowledge that U.S. Navy ships "actively monitored" the Russian ships as they made their way to a port of call in Havana.

On Thursday the U.S. military announced that a U.S. submarine had arrived at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in an apparent show of U.S. force in the Caribbean region.

At Wednesday's Pentagon press briefing, spokesperson Sabrina Singh downplayed the Russian naval flotilla's arrival in Havana noting that it's happened multiple times over the years but acknowledged that U.S. military assets had been tracking the ships on their way to Cuba.

"We've been tracking the Russians plans for this," Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon's deputy press secretary told reporters Wednesday.

Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov enters Havana's bay, Cuba, June 12, 2024.

The Russian ships' transit towards Cuba was monitored by six warships from the United States Navy, Canada, and France. They included the U.S. Navy destroyers USS Donald Cook, USS Delbert Black, USS Truxton, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stone, the Canadian frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec, and a French Lafayette class frigate.

"This is not a surprise we've seen them do this these type of port calls before and these are routine naval visits that we've seen under different administrations," Singh said.

A tug boat manoeuvres Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Kazan as it docks in Havana's bay, Cuba, June 12, 2024.
Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

"We're always constantly going to monitor any foreign vessels operating near U.S. territorial waters," she added. U.S. territorial waters stretch out 12 nautical miles from the coastline.

A U.S. official said the Russian ships came 30 miles from the American coastline as they transited the Atlantic Ocean.

On Thursday, U.S. Southern Command disclosed that a U.S. submarine had pulled into the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in an apparent show of U.S. force in the region though it was labeled as a "routine port visit".

"The fast-attack submarine USS Helena is in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as part of a routine port visit as it transits the U.S. Southern Command geographic area of responsibility while conducting its global maritime security and national defense mission," said a SOUTHCOM statement posted on X. "The vessel's location and transit were previously planned."

Russia's Defense Ministry has been very open about the port of call in Havana being made by the frigate "Admiral Gorshkov," the nuclear-powered submarine "Kazan," the sea supply tanker "Akademik Pashin" and the ocean rescue tug "Nikolai Chiker."

The rescue and tugboat Nicolay Chiker, part of the Russian naval detachment visiting Cuba, arrives at Havana's harbour, June 12, 2024.
Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images

Cuba's defense ministry has described the visit as "keeping with the historical friendly ties between Cuba and the Russian Federation and is fully consistent with international rules." In a statement, the ministry said "none of the ships carry nuclear weapons, due to which our country does not pose any threat to the region."

Even though the Russian ships are in port, Singh said the U.S. was "going to continue to monitor what's happening in the region."

According to the Pentagon, Russia has sailed warships into the Western Hemisphere yearly from 2013 to 2020 with regular port visits into Havana.

The most recent docking of a warship was in June 2023 though the most recent military exercise in the region was in 2008 with Venezuela.

A U.S. official said that the port visit to Havana will last a few days and that sometime next week the Russian flotilla is expected to make a port of call in Venezuela.

The Russian Navy ships will not be the only warships from a foreign military power making port in Havana this week.

The Canadian patrol vessel HMCS Margaret Brooke will conduct a port visit to Havana from June 14 to 17, the first time that a Canadian warship has made a port of call there since 2016.

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