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Russia deploying air and sea assets for military exercises in Caribbean, US official says

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, middle, attends a flag-raising ceremony on the frigate "Admiral Golovko" at the Severnaya Verf shipyard in Saint Petersburg, on Dec. 25, 2023. (Sergei Karpukhin/Pool/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

 Russia is preparing to deploy aircraft and combat naval vessels to the Caribbean to conduct military exercises in the coming weeks, its first exercises in the Western Hemisphere involving both air and sea activity in five years, a senior administration official told McClatchy and the Miami Herald.

The Biden administration is not expressing concern over the deployment, with the official stating it poses “no direct threat to the United States.” But the administration believes Moscow intends to use the exercises as a “messaging tactic” after President Joe Biden gave Ukraine permission last week to fire U.S.-made weapons across its border into Russia to defend its territory.

The official said the administration expects Moscow will “conduct heightened naval and air activity near the United States” that will likely include port calls by combat naval vessels in Cuba, and possibly Venezuela — two longstanding Russian allies that have seen occasional visits from Russian naval assets in the past two decades. The exercises may also include “aircraft deployments” and flights in the region, the official said.

Administration officials suspect that Cuba approved the Russian port call “at least in part” over an incident last year in which a U.S. nuclear submarine docked at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, angering the Cubans, a second U.S. official said.

Russia has sailed ships into the Western Hemisphere every year from 2013 to 2020, and has sent flights through the region that have violated the airspace of U.S. allies. But the anticipated activity would be the first coordinated air and sea exercise of its kind since 2019, during the Trump administration, the official noted.

“We expect that, as is predictable, the Russians will amp up the information space with this, both to make a point and to unsettle us,” the official said. “We’re not particularly concerned. It’s something that they’ve done before. It’s messaging for the Russians.

“This is about Russia showing they are still capable of some level of naval power projection,” the official added. “We should expect more of this activity going forward.”

Moscow did not inform the Biden administration of the maneuvers. “Ships, of course, are observable, so they kind of don’t have to,” the official said. Biden administration officials notified members of Congress of the Russian deployments earlier on Wednesday.

The U.S. Navy is tracking the Russian movements closely, the official added, and will adopt “whatever the necessary posture is to track and to monitor” their activity as the exercises unfold.

The administration anticipates the Russia’s maneuvers in the Caribbean will culminate in worldwide naval exercises in the fall that will include additional activity in the region, as well as throughout the Pacific.

“Their port calls in the Western Hemisphere are less frequent,” the official noted. “They’re less frequent, of course, because Russia has limited capacity for this kind of sustained power projection. And so that’s a factor. But this is something they’re doing, and clearly, they are unhappy — needless to say — with our support for Ukraine and support for our NATO allies.”

“We’re tracking this closely,” the official added. “We’re trying to get ahead of this.”


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