Russian warships pass close to US while heading to Cuba for drills

Three Russian warships reached Cuban waters Wednesday, at one point passing less than 30 miles off the coast of Florida ahead of planned military exercises in the region, according to multiple reports.

The Kremlin fleet of warships and small boats crossed the mouth of the Havana Bay and was greeted by 21 cannon salutes and Cuban sailors in dress uniform standing in formation, The Associated Press reported.

A Russian nuclear-powered submarine known as the Kazan — not assessed to be carrying nuclear weapons — followed the Russian ships, which are seen as a show of strength amid tensions over Western aid to Ukraine.

The fleet — comprising a Russian frigate known as Gorshkov, fleet oil tanker Pashin and a rescue tug Nikolay Chiker, according to the Cuban Foreign Ministry — are expected to stay in Cuba until Monday. The ships are then anticipated to take part in air and naval exercises in the Caribbean in the coming weeks, the first Kremlin military drills in the region since 2019.

The U.S. military also believes the Russian ships and support vessels could stop in Venezuela, another longtime ally of Moscow, and are likely to remain in the region through the summer.

U.S. officials have said the war drills are not considered a threat to America, but U.S. ships earlier this week were deployed to shadow the Russians. Those include two Navy destroyers and two ships towing sonar equipment meant to track the submarine, and another destroyer, a Coast Guard cutter and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft shadowing the Russian ships, a U.S. official told CBS News.

Moscow, meanwhile, has said it is merely conducting routine military drills with its Cuban allies.

Ahead of reaching Cuba, the Gorshkov and Kazan conducted simulated missile drills in the Atlantic, practicing a strike on a group of enemy ships from more than 370 miles away, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The perceived show of strength comes less than two weeks after Washington gave Ukraine partial permission to use its weapons to strike targets within Russia in order to protect Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly thereafter suggested his forces could respond with “asymmetrical steps” elsewhere in the world.

A State Department spokesperson told the AP that while Russia’s Cuban port calls are “routine naval visits,” they also acknowledged its 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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