Russian Hypersonic-Armed Warship and Nuke Sub Patrol Near Florida

US Coast Guard

In a provocative move reminiscent of the Cold War era, a Russian flotilla led by the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, armed with Zircon hypersonic missiles, and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan has docked in Havana, Cuba. This deployment has sparked significant international attention and concern, occurring as it does amid escalating tensions between NATO and Russia due to the ongoing Ukraine conflict.

Over six decades after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the presence of Russian military assets so close to the US shores has revived memories of one of the most dangerous standoffs in Cold War history. In October 1962, the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war. Today’s scenario, while not identical, has unsettling parallels, underscoring the continued strategic importance of Cuba in global geopolitics.

The Russian flotilla, which set sail from Severomorsk on May 17, includes the frigate Admiral Gorshkov and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan. The Admiral Gorshkov is armed with the Kalibr-NK missile system and the Zircon hypersonic missile, which can travel at speeds up to Mach 9, making it one of the most advanced and formidable weapons in Russia’s arsenal.

The Kazan, a Yasen-class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine, represents the cutting edge of Russian naval technology. Designed by the Malakhit Engineering Bureau and built at the Sevmash Shipyard, Kazan can launch a variety of anti-ship and land-attack missiles and is noted for its stealth and operational capabilities. The inclusion of Kazan in the flotilla provides the US Navy with a rare opportunity to observe and study one of Russia’s most advanced submarines up close.

Starting June 12, the Russian and Cuban navies will engage in joint exercises. These activities, while routine in nature, have raised eyebrows due to their timing and location. The presence of a Russian nuclear submarine and a hypersonic missile-armed frigate in Cuba is seen as a direct message to the United States and NATO, reminding them of Russia’s ability to project military power far from its shores.

Cuba has assured that the Kazan is not carrying nuclear weapons and poses no threat to regional stability. However, the close proximity of these exercises to the US mainland has undoubtedly added a layer of complexity to the already tense international relations.

NATO has been closely monitoring the Russian flotilla since it departed Severomorsk. The flotilla was shadowed by NATO’s P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft as it made its way through the Atlantic. High-quality footage released by the Russian Navy on May 23 showed a P-8 aircraft tracking the flotilla, highlighting the extensive surveillance operations being conducted by NATO forces.

Russian Kazan submarine
Russian Kazan submarine (Photo credit: Russian Navy)

Steffan Watkins, a Canada-based OSINT specialist, noted, “In the 23 May published video, you can see a P-8 Poseidon, which confirms the Russian Navy flotilla will be tracked from Norway to Cuba by multinational NATO forces, including aircraft and ships from the US Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), and Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), among others.”

As the flotilla approached the Caribbean, it continued to be shadowed by various NATO assets, including the USS Truxtun, CGC Stone, and HMCS Ville de Quebec. The US Navy’s P-8A Poseidon aircraft were actively involved in tracking the flotilla, ensuring that any potential threats could be swiftly identified and neutralized.

US Reaction: Concern and Strategic Implications

The US government has termed the presence of the Russian flotilla close to its shores as notable but not immediately concerning. This stance reflects an understanding of the broader geopolitical message behind the deployment. Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously threatened asymmetrical responses to US and NATO actions, and this show of force can be seen as a manifestation of that strategy.

Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, described the situation as an excellent opportunity for the US Navy to monitor and learn more about Russian submarines. He commented, “The inclusion of the Kazan nuclear-powered attack submarine in the Caribbean voyage offers the US Navy a unique opportunity to monitor and record the new Yasen (Severodvinsk) class sub in waters off the US East coast.”

The timing of this naval deployment is particularly significant given the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. As NATO countries increase their support for Ukraine, Russia is keen to demonstrate its capability to project power and influence far beyond the European theatre. This move also serves as a reminder to the United States and its allies of the potential consequences of their continued involvement in the conflict.

An anonymous US intelligence official emphasized that Russian military activity globally has intensified amid rising tensions since the invasion of Ukraine. “This is about Russia showing that it’s still capable of some level of global power projection,” the official stated.

Russia-Cuba Relations: A Strengthening Alliance

The presence of the Russian flotilla in Havana also highlights the strengthening relationship between Russia and Cuba. Relations between the two countries have been on the upswing since 2022, with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting multiple times. Most recently, they met on May 9 during the annual military parade on Red Square in Moscow.

Cuba has not joined the international sanctions regime against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Instead, the Cuban government has been vocal in its support of Russia, criticizing NATO’s expansion and condemning the sanctions. This alliance provides Russia with a strategic partner in the Western Hemisphere, further complicating the geopolitical landscape.

The arrival of the Russian flotilla in Cuba marks a significant moment in the ongoing strategic posturing between Russia and the United States. While the immediate threat may be limited, the implications for future military and geopolitical dynamics are profound. The presence of advanced Russian military assets so close to the US mainland serves as a stark reminder of the enduring significance of global naval power and the ever-shifting nature of international alliances and conflicts.

As the joint exercises proceed, the world will be watching closely, aware that such displays of military strength, while routine on the surface, carry deeper messages about the balance of power in the modern world. The US and its allies must navigate this complex situation with caution, recognizing the potential for escalation while also maintaining a firm stance in support of their strategic interests.

In conclusion, the Russian naval deployment to Cuba is a clear demonstration of Moscow’s intent to assert its military presence and influence on the global stage. It is a reminder of the ongoing importance of naval power in geopolitical strategy and the enduring relevance of historical alliances and rivalries. As the situation unfolds, it will be crucial for all involved parties to manage their actions and responses carefully to avoid unintended consequences and ensure regional and global stability.

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