Russia’s nuclear submarine tracks back up Florida’s coast as warships head to Caribbean

Russia has split up the naval flotilla that docked in Havana earlier this week, sending its nuclear submarine back north to the Atlantic and the rest of its warships south, where they are expected to make a port call in Venezuela, a U.S. official told McClatchy and the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

U.S. and Canadian warships, including destroyers and Coast Guard cutters, followed the submarine on Tuesday as it traveled back up the Florida coast in international waters — a reflection of the vessel’s significance and its proximity to U.S. shores.

An official with the U.S. Northern Command told McClatchy that the U.S. Navy continues to closely monitor the movements of the Russian vessels. Their presence in the Western Hemisphere mark the first significant Russian naval deployment in the region in five years, and the first deployment of a nuclear submarine of its kind since the end of the Cold War.

The Russian flotilla, comprising the missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov, the nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Kazan, the oil tanker Pashin and the salvage tug Nikolai Chiker, arrived in Havana last Wednesday, closely tracked by U.S. and Canadian military vessels.

U.S. officials confirmed to McClatchy and the Miami Herald the deployment of three guided-missile destroyers — the USS Truxtun, USS Donald Cook and USS Delbert D. Black — as well as a Coast Guard cutter, the Stone, and a Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. They stayed close to Cuban waters near Havana for several days.

U.S. officials had previously said they expected the Russian ships to go to Venezuela and conduct military exercises in the Caribbean.

Last Wednesday, the Russian combat vessels and the submarine passed very close to Florida shores on their way to Havana. At one point, open satellite tracking data located one of the Russian vessels less than 30 miles off Key Largo.

The Russian navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov
The Russian navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov

On Tuesday afternoon, three U.S. warships, including the USS destroyer Truxtun and the Coast Guard cutter Stone, and the Canadian frigate HMCS Ville de Québec were positioned close to Miami shores, and later continued moving north close to the Florida coast, according to satellite tracking website

A fourth Canadian warship, the HMCS Margaret Brook, docked in Havana at the same time as the Russian submarine and frigate, was off West Palm Beach on Tuesday afternoon.

The U.S. military also seemed to have attempted to track the expected fleet trajectory with the help of unmanned vessels known as saildrones, a technology used to monitor ocean currents and hurricanes. According to satellite tracking data, three of those vessels were located close to Central Cuba on Tuesday morning. The U.S. Navy has recently incorporated into the saildrones the technology that helps track submarines.

Russian officials and state media have said little about the fleet’s next destination. But on Monday, the commander of the frigate Admiral Gorshkov suggested in a vague statement to the Russian official news agency Tass that the fleet was to resume “combat service.”

“We carried out everything that we planned,” said Capt. Pavel Konov. “We are ready to continue to carry out the tasks of combat service.”

While in Havana, he said the sailors rested, visited a museum dedicated to Cuba’s late ruler Fidel Castro, went to the beach and tried mangoes.

Curious Cubans waited in line to visit the frigate, which was also toured by Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel and CNN.

American, Russian and Cuban officials all played down the visit. Cuba said the Russian warships were not carrying nuclear weapons. American officials said the Russian deployment was not a threat to the U.S. And a Kremlin spokesman said countries did not need to worry about Russian warships in the Western Hemisphere, which he called a normal occurrence.