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Russian warships arrive in Cuba

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A 21-gun salute hailed the arrival of Russian naval ships in Cuba this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNS FIRING)

SHAPIRO: The Russian ships have docked on the island for a six-day visit. Cuba's government says the trip is standard practice between allies, but Washington is watching closely. Emily Green reports.

EMILY GREEN, BYLINE: The Russian vessels that docked in Cuba today include a modern warship and a nuclear-powered submarine. There are no nuclear weapons on the submarine, according to U.S. officials. En route to Cuba, the Russian ships conducted military drills in the Atlantic Ocean. So is this all routine or a show of force by Russia to intimidate the U.S. amid tensions over the war in Ukraine? Brian Fonseca says a bit of both. He directs the Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University.

BRIAN FONSECA: There's a hint of diplomacy, even if it's gunboat diplomacy - the idea that you flex a little by showing off your military capability in a close proximity to your adversary.

GREEN: Russia's visit comes amid yet another escalation in U.S.-Russia tensions. Last month, President Biden gave Ukraine permission, for the first time, to use American weapons to strike targets in Russia.

FONSECA: Russia is probably seizing opportunity space here to project its strength globally, maybe displease the United States and, at the same time, you know, deepening some of its geostrategic relationships in critical parts of the world.

GREEN: The U.S. isn't taking any chances. It deployed warships and aircraft earlier this week to track the Russian fleet. But Fonseca and others note Russia has docked naval ships in Cuba before - last year and in 2019. The two countries, though, have become closer since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Cuba has steadfastly supported Russia in the war.

MICHEL FERNANDEZ PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: Cuba has become Russia's principal political ally in the region, says Michel Fernandez Perez, vice director of the NGO Cuba Proxima, which pushes for democratic change in Cuba. On the flip side, he says, Cuba needs Russia. It's in the throes of one of its worst economic crises in decades. Earlier this year, Russia sent oil to the island to help alleviate massive gas and power outages.

FERNANDEZ PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: Fernandez Perez says Russia's economic support is critical to the Cuban government because it has no other ally that can help it get out of its economic crisis, and the U.S. is unlikely to come to Cuba's aid. In an election year, with the Cuban American vote critical, there is no likelihood of a rapprochement between the two sides anytime soon.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Green. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emily Green
[Copyright 2024 NPR]