Cubans queue for hours to peek inside Russia’s ‘very nice’ warships

Cubans have lined the seafront and queued to see inside Russian warships docked in Havana, saying they were able to see inside the structure of the “very nice” ship including the types of weapons it can hold.

Russian Navy ships, including a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived in Havana on Wednesday morning as Russian President Putin seeks to solidify Moscow’s historic relationship with Cuba and send a message to the United States amid the G7 meeting in Italy.

Their arrival was swiftly followed by the US Navy sending its own submarine to Guantanamo Bay on Thursday on a reportedly routine visit, as Washington signed a security deal re-affirming its support for Ukraine as it continues to fight back against Russia’s invasion.

In Havana, onlookers and fisherman lined the seafront to watch the spectacle and with Cubans permitted to tour the frigate, dozens formed an orderly queue to board the ship.

“The United States need not worry,” Havana resident Ariel Vera told Reuters, a 55-year-old state worker who was among the first in line. “Cuba is a country of peace and our Russian friends are coming on a friendly visit.”

Another person that toured inside the ship said: “This type of ship gives a very good impression, it’s very well kept inside. Also, on the tour they show you inside the structure of the ship, the types of weapons that this type of frigate models can have, it’s a frigate…and overall, very nice.”

The Cuban government stressed that the vessels will not carry any nuclear weapons, and assured that their presence “does not represent a threat to the region” during Russia’s five-day official visit to the Caribbean island.

Tourists pass by Russian a nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Kazan and tug boat Nikolay Chiker, docked in Havana's bay, Cuba, June 13, 2024. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Tourists pass a Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Kazan and tug boat Nikolay Chiker, docked in Havana’s bay (Photo: Alexandre Meneghini)
A vintage car passes by as people line up to visit Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov (not pictured) docked in Havana's bay, Cuba, June 13, 2024. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
The ships are a show of force as the US signs a security deal with Ukraine, but Cuba says the military exercise is routine (Photo: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

When asked if Washington should fear a Russian transfer of military personnel to Cuba or even create a military base on the island, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “This is a normal practice for all states, including such a large maritime power as Russia,” before adding: “So we don’t see any reason to worry in this case.”

The Cuban revolutionary armed forces said in a statement published by the foreign ministry, the Russian “frigate Gorshkov, the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, the fleet oil tanker Pashin, and the rescue tug Nikolai Chiker” will visit the country – just 90 miles (144km) from the US border.

US ships also have been tracking and monitoring the Russian ships, which Pentagon officials say do not represent a threat to the US and confirmed it did not have nuclear weapons on board.

“This is not a surprise. We’ve seen them do these type of port calls before,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Wednesday. “We of course take it seriously, but these exercises don’t pose a threat to the United States.”

A family take pictures in front of Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Kazan and tug boat Nikolay Chiker, docked in Havana's bay, Cuba, June 13, 2024. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
A family take pictures of Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine ‘Kazan’ and tug boat ‘Nikolay Chiker’ (Photo: Reuters)
TOPSHOT - People with Russian flags look at the Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, part of the Russian naval detachment visiting Cuba, arriving at Havana's harbour, June 12, 2024. The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan -- which will not be carrying nuclear weapons -- and three other Russian naval vessels, will dock in the Cuban capital from June 12-17. The unusual deployment of the Russian military so close to the United States -- particularly the powerful submarine -- comes amid major tensions over the war in Ukraine, where the Western-backed government is fighting a Russian invasion. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP) (Photo by YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images)
Onlookers draped in Russian flags look at the Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan (Photo: AFP)
People watch Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov as it enters Havana???s bay, Cuba, June 12, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
People watch Russian frigate ‘Admiral Gorshkov’ as it enters Havana Bay (Photo: Reuters)

En route to Cuba, the Russian warships conducted drills in the Atlantic, the Russian Ministry of Defense said Tuesday. The crews on board the three navy ships and submarine practised the use of high-precision missile weapons using computer simulation for naval targets, designating ship groupings of a simulated enemy located at a distance of over 600km (372 miles), according to the Russian MoD, Russian state media Tass reports.

As the Russian ships sailed into Havana Bay, the Admiral Gorshkov – the first of a four-ship convoy – fired a 21-gun salute, which was met by the Cubans with cannon fire from an 18th-century colonial fort built by the Spanish to guard the port. The four Russian ships are now docked in berths usually occupied by cruise ships.

The arrival of Russian ships into Havana Bay occurred every year between 2013 and 2020. Last July, the Russian navy’s training-class ship Perekop sailed into Havana for a four-day visit, while Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel met with Mr Putin in May after he reiterated his support for the country and blamed the US for limiting “Cuba’s development and “harm[ing] it economically through sanctions and restrictions”.

It comes after Ukraine’s diplomatic envoy for Latin America and the Caribbean, Ruslan Spirin, estimated that 400 Cubans have joined Russia’s ranks in its war, offering highly-lucrative monthly payments in the region of $2,000 (£1,600) per month, while Cuba relies heavily on Russian oil.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Putin has sought to strengthen ties with nations in the global south. US officials expect the Russian ships to remain in the region and tour through the summer, possibly visiting sanction-hit Venezuela. Last week, Mr Putin told leaders of Bolivia and Zimbabwe that Russia “remains one of the key participants in world trade” as he tried to pit investors against “unfriendly nations” elsewhere.

Russia’s Caribbean tour comes amid tension between Washington and Moscow, several weeks after President Joe Biden gave the go-ahead for American-made weapons to strike inside Russia as a “countermeasure.”

It comes as a US nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, pulled into the waters near the US base in Cuba on Thursday. The stop is part of a “routine port visit” as the submarine travels through Southern Command’s region, the US Southern Command it said in a social media post.