HAVANA (AP) — One of the Russian navy's most advanced warships entered Havana's harbor last week and docked at the port used until this month by U.S. cruise lines.
The Admiral Gorshkov is one of the Russian navy's most advanced warships and is armed with cruise missiles, air defense systems and other weapons. The warship is the first ship in a new class of frigates intended to replace aging Soviet-era destroyers to project power far away from Russian shores.
Russia has not provided details about the purpose of its trip, but the Kremlin has moved to bolster Russia's military capability amid tensions with the West following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Russian armed forces have received hundreds of new warplanes and dozens of warships in recent years as part of a sweeping military modernization program that allowed Moscow to project power abroad.
As the U.S.-Russian relations have sunk to the lowest levels since the Cold War, Moscow has been considering further steps to boost its global presence. An air base and a naval facility in Syria are currently Russia's only military outposts outside the former Soviet Union but Russian military officials have talked repeatedly about plans to negotiate deals for Russian warships and aircraft to use foreign ports and air bases.
Russian ships have become an occasional presence in Havana over the last decade. The Viktor Leonov visited in March 2018. All of the Russian naval missions to Cuba have been seen as a projection of military power close to U.S. shores, although Cuba and Russian describe them as routine.
Early during his presidency, Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered the military to shut a Soviet-era outpost in Cuba as he sought to warm ties with the United States. But as those ties have deteriorated, Russian military officials have talked about the possibility of reinstating a presence on Cuba.
Russians were once the most important group of foreigners in Cuba, but that ended with the fall of the Soviet Union. That marked the start of a grueling depression in Cuba known as the "special period."