In a further show of naval muscle-flexing, Russian warships will visit United States foe Cuba for the first time since the Soviet era.
The destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support ships from a squadron that has been on a lengthy visit to Latin America will put in at Havana on Saturday for a five-day stay, Navy spokesman Captain Igor Dygalo said.
It will be the first visit by Russian warships to the communist island just 145km from the US since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
The Admiral Chabanenko, the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great and support ships arrived in the Caribbean last month in a deployment also unprecedented since Soviet times.
The voyage is widely seen as a show of force close to US shores and a response to the US use of warships to deliver humanitarian aid to Russia’s neighbour Georgia after their war in August.
The ships’ visit coincided with a Latin American tour by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who raised Russia’s profile in the region and met former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
The Russian ships in Latin America have now held joint exercises with the Navy of Venezuela, whose President, Hugo Chavez, is a fierce US critic, and the Admiral Chabanenko became the first Russian warship to sail through the Panama Canal since World War II.
The destroyer and two support vessels left Nicaragua on Monday after delivering US$200,000 of medicine, computers and other humanitarian aid, Nicaraguan Lieutenant Colonel Juan Morales said.
But Dygalo said the ships left Nicaragua yesterday. Their visit stirred heated political debate there.
The Peter the Great remains in the Caribbean but would not visit Cuba, Dygalo said.
From 1969 until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet naval groups regularly called into Cuba, where there was a major intelligence collection station, says military analyst Nathan Hughes of Stratfor online intelligence service.