Russian Warships to Visit Cuba

Russian warships will visit U.S. foe Cuba for the first time since the Soviet era, the Navy said Monday.

The destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support ships from a squadron that has been on a lengthy visit to Latin America will put in at Havana on Friday for a five-day stay, Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said.

It will be the first visit by Russian warships to the Communist-led island situated just 145 kilometers from the United States since the 1991 Soviet collapse, Dygalo said.

The Admiral Chabanenko, the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great and support ships arrived in the Caribbean last month in a deployment also unprecedented since Soviet times. The voyage is widely seen as a show of force close to U.S. shores and a response to the U.S. use of warships to deliver humanitarian aid to Russia's neighbor Georgia after their war in August. The United States has maintained an economic embargo against Cuba since 1962.

The ships' visit coincided with a Latin American tour by President Dmitry Medvedev, who raised Russia's profile in the region and met with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The destroyer and two support vessels left Nicaragua on Sunday after delivering $200,000 worth of medicine, computers and other humanitarian aid, Nicaraguan Lieutenant Colonel Juan Morales said. Dygalo said, however, that the ships left Nicaragua on Monday. Their visit stirred heated political debate there. The Peter the Great remains in the Caribbean but will not visit Cuba, Dygalo said.