CubaBrief: Russian warships expected to depart Cuba today. U.S. nuclear sub shows up in Cuba. What weapons may Moscow leave behind?

Nuclear submarine USS Helena (SSN 725). This sub arrived on 6/13/24 at Guantanamo Naval Base for a scheduled visit. Cuba’s Foreign Minister called the visit a “provocative escalation.”

Russian warships expected to depart Cuba today. Last week the threats made by Vladimir Putin in advance of their arrival was shared in a CubaBrief.

Both Moscow, and Havana said that there was nothing to be concerned about the visit of the Russian warships to the Port of Havana.

However, Havana had a different response when the USS Helena, a US nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine, turned up on June 13, 2024 at Guantanamo Bay, America’s base in Cuba for a scheduled visit.  Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called the visit a “provocative escalation.”

While many have been focused on the warships, and nuclear submarines, the threat made by Vladimir Putin on June 5, 2024 was “to supply weapons to countries from which strikes can be performed on countries supplying weapons to Kyiv.”

Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Cuban Studies Institute, a non-profit research group in Coral Gables in a June 14 column published in the Miami Herald reported on other Russian visits that should be cause for concern including the following visit on February 27, 2024.

For a second consecutive year, prominent Russian military and security leaders visited Cuba meeting with General Raul Castro and other Cuban officials. Included in the Russian delegation are Putin’s close ally Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Kremlin strategic forces, and high intelligent officials. Before leaving for Nicaragua and Venezuela an article in Pravda discussing Patrushev’s visit emphasized that Havana discussed defense aspects with its Russian visitors. “Armed with Russian missiles Cuba will be a symmetrical response to NATO’s expansion to the Russian threshold.”

The warships are leaving Cuba, but what weapons may have been left behind with this hostile neighbor?

CBS News Miami, June 17, 2024

Former U.S. Army General Russel Honoré said he thinks Russia is sending a clear message that they’re engaged and they have the capacity to come to the American shoreline with missiles and ships.

New York Post, June 16, 2024

Cold War concerns resurface as nuclear-powered Russian submarine arrives in Cuba

By John R. Bolton

If you thought the Cold War had returned last week, you were not daydreaming. 

The Kazana Russian nuclear-powered submarine, and accompanying surface ships, including the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, made port in Havana, Cuba, scene of several epic Cold War crises. Both the Kazan and the Gorshkov routinely carry nuclear-capable Zirkon and Kalibr cruise missiles, although Russia denied the vessels were doing so on this trip. 

The Biden administration’s reaction was schizophrenic, some officials asserting that the deployment was entirely routine, while others said the Kazan’s nuclear capabilities clearly made it significant.  Certainly, the missile test-firings by the Kazan and the Gorshkov, conducted near Florida’s coastline, brought back memories.

Moscow’s effort to show it can still project naval power far from home occurred simultaneously with this year’s G-7 meeting in Italy. Western military aid to Ukraine to defend against Russia’s 2022 invasion and the future of that aid if Donald Trump wins in November were top-tier subjects discussed among the G-7 leaders. 

In Cold War parlance, the timing of Russia’s naval maneuver was no coincidence, comrade.

In what seemed an appropriate reaction to Russia’s ploy, the USS Helena, a US nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine, promptly turned up at Guantanamo Bay, America’s base on Cuba. 

[ Full article ]

Miami Herald, June 15th, 2024

Russia’s warships in Cuba are more than a tit-for-tat for Biden’s support for Ukraine | Opinion  

By Andres Oppenheimer

The arrival of four Russian warships, including a nuclear submarine, in Cuba on June 12 got world attention because it was seen as a defiant response by Russian leader Vladimir Putin to America’s military aid to Ukraine.

But there may be much more to it than that.

While Putin probably tried to send the message to Washington that “if you step into my backyard, I’ll step into yours,” he may also have sent the warships as a show of support for Cuba’s dictatorship at a time of growing street protests amid the island’s worst economic crisis in recent memory.

[ Full article ]


The Hill, June 15, 2024

Cuba-Russian relations come full circle — why US policy must reflect this reality

In September 1960 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave Fidel Castro a resounding bear hug. The setting was the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, and the hug marked the beginning of a long and storied history between Cuba and the Soviet Union. According to James G. Hershberg, this encounter symbolized “the creation of a sturdy Soviet-Cuban political, economic, and military alliance, and the island’s incorporation into the communist world.”

Former New York Times foreign correspondent Ted Szulc would later refer to this New York City meeting as, “magnificent political theatre, leaving no doubt that Cuba had exchanged the American influence sphere for that of the Soviets, with all its attendant political implications…”

And in the years that followed, Cuba grew desperately dependent on Soviet markets and aid, becoming a steadfast Cold War ally, eventually joining the Soviet-led COMECON and becoming the recipient of an estimated $4.5 billion in annual Soviet subsidies.

[ Full article ]

CBC, June 15th, 2024

Canadian warship sharing an anchorage with Russian vessels in Cuba 

By Evan Dyer

The Royal Canadian Navy now finds itself in the unusual position of both shadowing Russian warships as a threat in the Caribbean and sharing an anchorage with them as a guest in the port of Havana — because Canada accepted an invitation to send a patrol ship to Cuba while the Russian navy is in town.

And it’s not clear just who in government or the military knew about the invitation from Cuba. The Caribbean nation has been a full-throated supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and Cubans have been fighting alongside Russian soldiers in that country.

For several days, the frigate HMCS Ville de Québec has been tasked with shadowing the Russian ships, which conducted missile exercises during their Atlantic crossing using Moscow’s new Zircon hypersonic missiles. The Ville de Québec is part of a three-ship group that tracked the Russians, along with the U.S. destroyer USS Truxton and U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGS Stone.

A Canadian CP-140 surveillance plane flying out of Jacksonville, Florida is also keeping a close eye on the Russians. The destroyer USS Donald Cook also appears to have joined the mission in the Caribbean, in addition to U.S. naval surveillance aircraft.

And yet on Friday, Canada’s Harry DeWolf-class offshore patrol vessel HMCS Margaret Brooke sailed into Havana as a guest of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, just hours after the Russian flotilla docked in the same harbour.

Cuba invited the Canadians to Havana to celebrate “the long-standing bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba,” according to a tweet by Canadian Joint Operations Command.

No Canadian naval vessel had visited Cuba for more than 50 years until Justin Trudeau came to power at the end of 2015.

In November 2016, he visited Havana hoping to meet the dying Fidel Castro. That didn’t happen but Trudeau did publicly embrace Raul Castro and the Castro brothers’ chosen successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, and called Cuba an “ally” of Canada during a talk at the University of Havana.

Three days later, the frigate HMCS Fredericton set sail for Havana for a visit then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan said would celebrate the “strong, positive and productive relationship” between Cuba and Canada.

A beaming Miguel Diaz-Canel looks on as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Raul Castro in Havana on Nov. 16, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Trudeau government’s relationship with the Cuban Communist Party regime has frequently drawn criticism from Canada’s Cuban community. When Cubans took to the streets to demand the end of the 62-year dictatorship on July 11, 2021, Cuban-Canadians accused the Trudeau government of downplaying their political demands and attempting to misrepresent Cubans’ demands for democracy as mere gripes about shortages of food and medicines.

The Margaret Brooke is the first Canadian warship to visit Havana since the Fredericton, and the second to visit Cuba (HMCS Charlottetown stopped in Santiago de Cuba in 2018). Many in the Cuban-Canadian community say it’s less appropriate than ever for Canada to appear to bolster the Cuban regime in the wake of a harsh crackdown on dissidents that has seen the return of decades-long sentences for political prisoners.

They also cite Cuba’s new and far-reaching alliance with Putin’s Russia. Moscow’s footprint in Cuba — which includes the re-opened Lourdes spy base — is now bigger than it has been since the end of the Cold War.

Mixed messages from Canada 

It was initially unclear who in the Canadian government authorized the Havana visit or who knew that the Margaret Brooke had been invited at the same time as the Russians.

However, a spokesperson for Defence Minister Bill Blair said on Saturday that the minister authorized the port visit “on the advice of the Navy and the Canadian Joint Operations Command.”

“We believe that this marked an especially important time to show a Canadian presence in the region,” Daniel Minden said in a statement.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence (DND) told CBC News that the department was aware the Russians would be in the Havana port on the same days as the Canadians.

But when asked about the visit on CBC’s Power and Politics on Thursday evening, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told host David Cochrane she knew nothing about it.

“This is something I have to look more closely into,” she said. “This is information that is news to me.”

Four hours later, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson John Babcock suggested that the Cuba visit was part of a deliberate departmental strategy.

“Amidst global insecurity, Canada believes in pragmatic diplomacy to engage countries of different perspectives while we continue to uphold our values and interests and defend the international rules-based order,” he told CBC News.

The friendly visit sends a confusing message about Canada’s allegiances, said Russian political scientist Vladimir Rouvinski, director of the CIES Research Center at Icesi University in Colombia and an expert on Russia’s presence in the Western hemisphere. 

“I think it’s a very unfortunate situation for Canada,” he told CBC News. “It also shows that one has to be very careful when doing this kind of planning with Cuba” which, he said, “knew that Russians would come and Canada would come at the same time, of course.”

Cuba has its own motives for wanting Canada to visit, said Rouvinski. “Cuba is interested in finding a way to pressure the Western countries to change their attitude towards Cuba,” he said.

But by putting Canada in an embarrassing situation, he said, Cuba risks damaging its relationship with Ottawa.

The most obvious beneficiary of the situation is Russia, he said.

“There is a very important symbolic component in what is happening now in Havana Bay for Russia,” he said. Russia, he argued, is sending NATO a message that if it’s going to be in Russia’s backyard, “Russia is capable of playing their own game in such a distant territory as the Western Hemisphere and the Caribbean.”

Causing embarrassment to Canada, and creating the impression that western allies are divided over Russia, makes the symbolism even more valuable to Moscow, he added.

“It’s also the message to be able to say who is controlling what,” said Rouvinski.

Visit gives a boost to Communist Party

Eloy Viera is a Cuban independent journalist with the publication El Toque, a popular online publication on the island that annoys Cuban authorities by publishing black market exchange rates for dollars and euros.

He said the Communist Party will use the Canadian visit domestically to try to show the Cuban people the country is not diplomatically isolated.

“The image they want to send to the world is, ‘We are with everyone, we are close to Russia, but at the same time we are also close to one of its adversaries, in this case Canada,” he said.

A classic American convertible drives by as people watch Russia’s Kazan nuclear-powered submarine arrive in the port of Havana on Wednesday. (Ariel Ley/The Associated Press)

Viera said Canada was unwise to accept the invitation.

“That’s one of the main problems when a democratic government like Canada’s deals with an autocratic regime like Cuba’s — you are taking the risk to be manipulated by someone that is a master in manipulation,” he said.

“Everything is part of the game that right now is being handled from Havana. It’s not handled from Ottawa, it’s handled from Havana.”

The U.S. has made no comment on Canada’s presence in Havana port but on Thursday, as the Russian nuclear submarine Kazan sailed into Havana, the U.S. nuclear-powered sub USS Helena slipped into the American base at Guantanamo Bay, a move Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodrgiuez called a “provocative escalation.”

[ Full article ]

Miami Herald, June 14, 2024

Thanks to Cuba, Russia is a growing threat to the U.S. | Opinion 

By Jaime Suchlicki

Updated June 14, 2024 3

The current visit to Cuba and the Caribbean by a contingent of Russian naval war vessels and submarines indicates Russia’s growing displeasure with the U.S. military policy and support for Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested this week that Moscow could take asymmetrical steps if Western countries were to supply Ukraine with weapons that were then used on Russian soil.
In addition, these types of trips show support and solidarity for friendly countries and familiarize the crews with the ports and Caribbean waters. The Russians have been conducting these types of trips periodically.
For a second consecutive year, prominent Russian military and security leaders visited Cuba meeting with General Raul Castro and other Cuban officials. Included in the Russian delegation are Putin’s close ally Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Kremlin strategic forces, and high intelligent officials. Before leaving for Nicaragua and Venezuela an article in Pravda discussing Patrushev’s visit emphasized that Havana discussed defense aspects with its Russian visitors.
“Armed with Russian missiles Cuba will be a symmetrical response to NATO’s expansion to the Russian threshold.”