Russian sub deployment off Florida worries Pentagon that Moscow will stalk U.S. coasts

People look at the class frigate Admiral Gorshkov, part of the Russian naval detachment visiting Cuba, arriving Wednesday at Havana's harbour. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Russia’s deployment of a naval flotilla to Cuba on Wednesday was generally consistent with routine military posturing by Moscow — with one exceptional detail, Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday.

“There are elements of this one that are different, that are distinct,” he said. “They have a submarine associated with this port visit that they have not had before.”


The first deployment of a nuclear submarine to Cuba since the end of the Cold War has served not only as a message to the Biden administration of Moscow’s displeasure with continued U.S. support for Ukraine, but also of its increasing ability to stalk U.S. coastlines with stealth submersibles — a growing concern for the U.S. military, multiple officials familiar with the matter told McClatchy and the Miami Herald.

Just last month, the head of the U.S. Northern Command warned Congress that Moscow could soon deploy 12 similarly advanced nuclear submarines split evenly between the Pacific and Atlantic, creating a “persistent conventional threat” to the United States.

“The threat will only become more acute later in the decade,” Air Force Gen. Gregory Guillot said, once the Yasen-class submarines are regularly armed with hypersonic missiles capable of traveling many times the speed of sound.

U.S. officials are now assessing whether the current Russian deployment, which will culminate in military exercises in the Caribbean, could be the beginning of a pattern of Russian submarine activity that will require a more sustained change in U.S. force posture.

The Kazan, a Yasen-class sub, joined three other Russian combat vessels that U.S. officials characterized as routine visitors to Cuba’s shores.

The deployment is “something we watch closely, carefully,” Sullivan said.

‘They will definitely lose her’

As the Kazan breached the waters of the port of Havana on Wednesday, Russian state media reported that the vessel had demonstrated it is “capable of quietly approaching U.S. shores” within 50 kilometers, or about 30 miles. U.S. officials acknowledged to McClatchy on Tuesday that the Russian fleet had skirted the coast of Florida by a similar distance on its approach to Cuba.

“If she wants to hide, they will definitely lose her, she will break away,” said Mikhail Budnichenko, director of the submarine program, as quoted by TASS, a Russian state-run media organization. “This is a very secretive ship, this is the latest achievement of Russian science and technology.”

The Kazan, a nuclear-powered vessel capable of carrying and firing nuclear cruise missiles, is a state-of-the-art submersible that is part of a newly designed fleet intended to replace Russia’s aging Soviet-era nuclear submarines.

A U.S. official told McClatchy and the Herald that U.S. military assets never lost track of the Kazan on its approach to Havana. McClatchy confirmed on Tuesday that the U.S. Northern Command had dispatched three guided-missile destroyers — the USS Truxtun, USS Donald Cook and USS Delbert D. Black — as well as a Coast Guard cutter and a Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft to patrol the Russian military movements.

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