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The Russians Are Coming

Introduction
Evoking memories of the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis, on Tuesday, June 11th, the Russian foreign
ministry announced that it had sent two vessels from its Northern Fleet to conduct training
exercises on the outskirts of Havana, exacerbating already existing tensions between Moscow
and Washington. Coming on the heel of mounting tensions between Russia and Western-alligned
NATO powers as the result of several factors involving recent developments in the
Russia-Ukraine conflict, these actions likely represent a form of diplomatic posturing on the
Russian end.
Russian frigate enters Havana bay (Reuters)
Background
The last few months have seen an increase in tensions between Russia and NATO-aligned
powers as a result of the escalation of Western involvement in the Ukraine conflict. First, Paris
has engaged in a war of words with Moscow. France under Emmanuel Macron has debated
sending troops on to Ukrainian soil in the event of a Russian breakthrough. Moreover, while
France has denied the presence of military advisors in Ukraine, Russian sources have stated that
they would constitute a “legitimate military target” (Al Jazeera).
Another factor aggravating tensions between the West and Moscow has been the recent
authorization given by the United States for Ukraine to use certain of its weapons to strike targets
within Russian territories (MSN). Together with the aforementioned Franco-Russian diplomatic
conflict, this escalation in Western involvement in the conflict has created a climate in which
diplomatic posturing, or even shows of force, are to be expected.
Analysis
The recent training of four Russian vessels in international waters near Cuba can be seen within
this context as yet another propagandistic act meant to demonstrate the strength of the Russian
armed forces when faced with what it perceives as Western aggression. RT, an organization with
close ties to the Russian government, reports the following:
“The tactical naval group deployed by Russia’s Northern Fleet includes two of the most modern
Russian military assets: the Yasen-class nuclear-powered submarine Kazan and the frigate
Admiral Gorshkov, the lead vessel in its class.” (RT)
This is followed by a detailed description of the striking capacity and range of the warships and
claims that the group was accompanied by an oil-tanker and a rescue-tug. Critically, the
Washington Post also claims that newly-developed hypersonic missiles capable of striking both
land and maritime targets were aboard the frigate.
The rhetoric within this article puts forward the “modern” nature and assets of the Russian
vessels deployed near Havana. It can thus be seen as an attempt by state-supported media to
portray the Russian navy as a powerful force capable of defying Western interests, and as a
diplomatic play that constitutes a show of force.
On the other hand, the Biden administration seems to affirm that this posturing, while worrying,
constitutes a largely hollow threat that is not accompanied by a credible and immediate danger.
American news network CNN claims:
“US military had deployed ships and planes to monitor Russia’s military exercises in the Atlantic
and the Caribbean, and has been tracking the Russian vessels as they transited the Atlantic”
“the US has been monitoring the flotilla’s movements “the whole time,”… and all vessels
including the Russians have remained in international waters.” (CNN)
This rhetoric of securitization and monitoring along with affirmations by national security
advisor Jake Sullivan that, despite hypersonic missiles being aboard a frigate, no known missiles
have yet been transferred by Russia to their Cuban allies, suggests that the United States sees
these actions as pure diplomatic posturing devoid of real threat to national and international
security. Additionally, this situation is seen as fairly routine, as powers friendly to the Cuban
regime regularly conduct training exercises near their waters.
For the Biden Administration, this does not constitute a new Cuban Missile Crisis. However,
they continue to exercise caution and affirm their recent naval hegemony in the Atlantic through
“increasing its participation in exercises and operations with allies and partners – to encourage
responsible behavior by all” (USNI News).