Russian Warships Arrive in Havana

Courtesy Russian Ministry of Defense

Published Jun 12, 2024 5:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two Russian Navy warships have arrived in Havana, Cuba, completing a well-publicized voyage that appears calibrated to send a message of defiance to the United States. 

The frigate Admiral Gorshkov and the attack submarine Kazan transited the Atlantic and conducted missile drills off the Eastern Seaboard before arriving Wednesday in Havana Bay. The two vessels - and an accompanying oiler and rescue tug - are in port for a five-day goodwill visit to Cuba's capital, and they received a warm welcome and a 21-gun salute from Cuban forces. The Russian sailors will have a liberty call to "rest and get acquainted with local attractions," according to the Russian ministry of defense. Cuban nationals will also have an opportunity to tour Gorshkov

The Gorshkov and the Kazan do not carry nuclear armaments, according to U.S., Russian and Cuban officials. The White House has quietly signaled that it does not view the small deployment as a threat, but U.S. Navy warships and sub-hunting aircraft have been closely shadowing the Russian vessels' movements throughout their voyage. The Russian flotilla remained in international waters during the transit, defense officials told CNN. 

On Tuesday, Gorshkov and Kazan carried out a simulated anti-ship missile drill off the U.S. East Coast, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense. Gorshkov is the first vessel to carry Russia's first hypersonic antiship missile, the Zircon, which has a claimed top speed of Mach 8-9. Gorshkov received the first operational loadout with Zircon missiles in the fleet in December 2022, according to the Russian Navy; in previous deployments off Europe, NATO forces have followed the frigate's movements closely. 

Russian media outlets have noted that Havana is just 90 miles south of Florida, and that the long-range Zircon can also be used to strike ground targets (as it has in Ukraine).

Cuban officials have portrayed the visit as a routine port call. “Visits by naval units from other countries are a historical practice of the revolutionary government with nations that maintain relations of friendship and collaboration,” the nation's foreign ministry said in a statement.