Russia deploys task group to Caribbean and Cuba

Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates
The Russian Federation Navy’s Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates can carry the Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. Lead ship Admiral Gorshkov test fired the system as recently as May 2022. (Wiki)

A Russian Federation Navy task group has visited Havana, Cuba, in what is being seen as a display of power projection capability.

Four naval vessels – the Project 22350 frigate Admiral Gorshkov and the Project 885M Severodvinsk II/Yasen-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) Kazan, supported by the Project 23130 replenishment tanker Akademik Pashin and Project R5757 Baklazhan-class salvage tug Nikolay Chiker – conducted a port call in Havana in early June.

While Russian naval forces have previously demonstrated capacity to conduct deployments at distance across the Atlantic Ocean, the deployment is nonetheless a relatively rare recent event, with Russian naval forces focused on operations in the Euro-Atlantic theatre, especially supporting Russia’s campaign in its war in Ukraine.

The timing of the visit to Cuba coincided with several high-profile reiterations of Western political and financial support for Ukraine. For example, Switzerland recently hosted a summit looking at a peace framework for the Ukraine conflict. While trans-oceanic naval deployments usually take time to plan and conduct, the Cuba visit demonstrated nonetheless that both parties in the war are seeking to underline their international support at a key phase in the conflict’s evolution.

In a press briefing onboard the US Presidential aircraft Air Force One, en route to Brindisi, Italy on 12 June, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said “Just to take a step back, we have seen these Russian naval deployments, sailing into Cuba, in the Bush administration, the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and now the Biden administration.”

“It’s something we watch closely, carefully …. We will see how this unfolds in the coming days,” Sullivan continued, “but we have seen this kind of thing before, and we expect to see this kind of thing again.”

One point of difference compared to previous visits was the submarine presence, Sullivan said.

The Russian ships may head next to Venezuela for a further visit, according to reports.

Media reports indicate the US Navy (USN) is underscoring its existing operational activities taking place in southern waters at the same time as Russia’s Cuba visit. For example, a US Southern Command statement on 13 June said the USN 688/Los Angeles-class SSN USS Helena was operating in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The statement added that the deployment was “part of a routine port visit as [the boat] transits the US Southern Command geographic area of responsibility”, noting that “the vessel’s location and transit were previously planned”.

According to various media reports, such as CBS News, the USN deployed a range of assets to monitor the Russian group’s movements, including anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platforms, three destroyers, a US Coast Guard ship, and Saildrone uncrewed surface vessels (USVs).

by Dr. Lee Willett