Russian warships arrive in Cuba ahead of military exercises, tensions with West over Ukraine

A fleet of Russian warships arrived Wednesday off Cuban waters ahead of planned military exercises in the region as part of what some perceived as Moscow’s attempt to show its strength as tensions with the West grow over the war in Ukraine.

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. Sailors in dress uniform stood in military formation as they approached the island.

A nuclear-powered submarine was expected to arrive behind them. Cuba’s foreign ministry said last week that the ships will be in Havana between June 12 and June 17.

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People watch the Russian Navy Admiral Gorshkov frigate arrive at the port of Havana on Wednesday. A fleet of Russian warships reached Cuban waters on Wednesday ahead of planned military exercises in the Caribbean.  (AP Photo/Ariel Ley)

“Most of all, the warships are a reminder to Washington that it is unpleasant when an adversary meddles in your near abroad,” said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Latin America Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center think tank, referring to the Western involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine. “It also reminds Russia’s friends in the region, including U.S. antagonists Cuba and Venezuela, that Moscow is on their side.”

Russia is a longtime ally of Cuba and has close ties with Venezuela, another U.S. adversary. The ships are expected to remain in the region through the summer.

Despite the submarine, a senior U.S. administration official told The Associated Press that the intelligence community has determined no vessel is carrying nuclear weapons.

A State Department spokesperson told the AP that Russia’s port calls in Cuba are “routine naval visits.” The official acknowledged the military exercises “have ratcheted up because of U.S. support to Ukraine and exercise activity in support of our NATO allies.”

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Russia’s Kazan nuclear-powered submarine arrives at the port of Havana. (AP Photo/Ariel Ley)

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 attacks.

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.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and his Cuban counterpart Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla shake hands after a joint news conference following their talks in Moscow on Wednesday.  (Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool Photo via AP)

“From the very beginning, Havana gave an assessment of what was happening outlining the absolutely correct, true reasons for what was unfolding (in Ukraine), and what was being prepared by the West for many years,” Lavrov said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Louis Casiano is a reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to [email protected].

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