Arrival of Viktor Leonov SSV-175 warship follows announcement by Russia that it plans to increase military presence worldwide. A Russian spy ship has slipped into Havana for an unannounced visit, a day after the country’s defence minister announced plans to expandRussia‘s worldwide military presence. The Viktor Leonov SSV-175, part of the Vishnya class of intelligence ships, quietly entered Cuban waters this week and docked at a cruise ship terminal on Thursday, its crew casually taking in the view of the old colonial section of the Cuban capital as passersby looked on in surprise.
Russian warships have come and gone in Cuba since the collapse of the Soviet Union, usually with much publicity and the opportunity for Cubans to visit the ship. This time there was no mention in the Cuban state-run media.
On Wednesday in Moscow, the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Russia planned to increase its military projection abroad, including in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
The Russian navy intelligence vessel in Havana was commissioned by the Soviet Union in 1988 near the end of the cold war. It is outfitted with electronic surveillance equipment and missile defence systems and is a signals intelligence asset of the Russian navy, according to the Russian government.
The 94m(309ft) ship was receiving food, but no maintenance or fuel, port employees said.
A Russian embassy official described the visit as friendly, saying members of the crew joined Havana officials in laying a wreath at a monument to Soviet soldiers.
“It was scheduled to stay three or four days. It should leave tomorrow,” said the embassy spokesman.
Cuban official media made no immediate mention of its port call.
Locals shrugged at the ship’s appearance, as well as Moscow’s announcement on Wednesday that it was seeking permission for naval vessels to use ports in Cuba and other countries in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere.
“I think every country has the right to live the way they want to live and defend themselves,” said Armando Torres, a 54-year-old cook who passed by the ship on his way to work in the morning. “We are a country that has always been oppressed and blockaded for so many years.”
The former Soviet Union and communist-run Cuba were close allies for decades, and the Soviets built a major intelligence base on the outskirts of Havana that was closed soon after the demise of European communism.