A Russian Naval Task Force docked in Havana Harbor in Cuba on Saturday, Russian media outlets reported.
The task force was led by the missile cruiser, Moskva (Moscow), and also included the Vice-Admiral Kulakov anti-submarine destroyer and large marine tanker, Ivan Bubnov. The Moskva is the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet while the other two vessels are from the Northern Fleet. Reports indicated that the flotilla had come from Portugal and will visit Nicaragua after departing Cuba.
It was the first time the Russian Navy has made a port call in Cuba in four years, according to the news reports. The visit 4 years ago was the first one since the Soviet Union era when Moscow and Havana were close allies.
The crew members were expected to visit places of historical and cultural significance in Cuba over the next few days. The Moskva is also expected to open for public viewing on Monday, according to the reports.
According to Euro News, hundreds of Cubans turned out on Saturday to greet the vessels. Other reports said that the ships were greeted by the 21-gun artillery salute.
The trip comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-Russian relations. Last week Russia granted NSA leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum despite an intense U.S. lobbying campaign that aimed to persuade Russia to deny him entry into the country.
White House spokesman Jay Carney responded by saying, “We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and in private to have Mr. Snowden expelled to the United States to face the charges against him.”
Many U.S. lawmakers were far more critical.
“Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife,” senior Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) said shortly after Russia’s announcement. He also urged the Obama administration to try and relocate the G20 Summit that is scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg next month.
The administration is thought to be reconsidering a bilateral summit between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin that is supposed to take place in Moscow at the time of the G20 Summit.
Cuba was a battleground between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The two nuclear superpowers were on the brink of war in October 1962 when the Kremlin tried to insert nuclear weapons onto Cuba, which is about 90 miles off the coast of the U.S. The Cuban Missile Crisis (Caribbean Crisis in the former Soviet Union) is said to be the closest the two superpowers ever came to an actual war during the Cold War.