Three Russian warships have entered Cuban waters as part of a voyage aimed at boosting Russian ties with several Latin American nations.
Cuban soldiers fired ceremonial shots to welcome the three ships as they steamed into Havana Bay on Friday. The naval group is led by the Admiral Chabanenko, an advanced destroyer built for anti-submarine combat. Cuban state media said the Russian crews will spend nearly five days in Cuba for meetings and cultural exchanges.
It is the first time Russian warships have visited Cuba since the fall of the Soviet Union, which was one of Havana's main supporters for decades.
A Show of Force?
Frank Mora of the National War College in Washington said he was surprised that Cuba's government agreed to the military visit.
"The Cubans are more than willing to engage the Russians on a whole range of economic and technological cooperation agreements. But they are much more reluctant to engage on military-to-military or security cooperation," he said.
Mora said relations between Havana and Moscow have suffered since the fall of the Soviet Union. Cuba has been seeking other international partners in recent years, and there are indications it is more eager to repair ties with the United States than to provoke new conflicts.
Russia on the other hand has sought to challenge Washington, for example on its policies regarding the Georgia conflict four months ago and missile defense programs in Europe. Mora said the voyage of the Russian naval ships to Cuba and other Latin American countries is clearly intended as a show of force, intended for Washington.
US: No Cause for Concern
U.S. officials at the State Department and the Pentagon said the Russian warships are not a cause for concern.
Frank Mora said Cuba's government may have reluctantly agreed to the Russian visit to build goodwill for future Russian investments in Cuba's oil and nickel industries.
"There are other kinds of things the Cubans are happy to receive. But the depth and breadth of those investments is questionable, as the Russians just devalued their currency twice in one week," said Mora.
The drop in world oil prices has hit Russia and other oil-producing nations especially hard. Mora said the downturn may force Moscow to scale back promises to support infrastructure projects in Nicaragua and cooperation deals with Venezuela.
The Russian warships also visited Venezuela last month for joint training exercises with Venezuela's navy.