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

Michael Wilner, Miami Herald on

Published in Political News

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.


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.

But Moscow’s advancements in submarine technology have accelerated in recent years. Last year, Guillot’s predecessor warned Congress that Yasen-class submarines like the Kazan could begin routinely patrolling U.S. coasts this year or next.

The threat “is absolutely increasing,” Gen. Glen VanHerck told lawmakers, referring to the Russian submarine deployments, “now not only the Atlantic, but we also have them in the Pacific.”

“It’s just a matter of time — probably a year or two — before that’s a persistent threat, 24 hours a day,” VanHerck added. “That impact has reduced decision space for a national senior leader in a time of crisis.”

Last month, Guillot told the Senate that Moscow’s intent to deploy a dozen submarines across the Pacific and Atlantic would enable the Russian Navy “to pose a persistent conventional threat to critical infrastructure throughout most of North America.”

“The threat will only become more acute later in the decade when [Russian submarines] are armed with the Tsirkon hypersonic missile,” Guillot said.

U.S. officials told McClatchy and the Herald that the Kazan is not known to be carrying hypersonic missiles on its current deployment.

But TASS quoted another unnamed Russian official on Wednesday stating the Kazan and its escorts could be equipped with such powerful weapons that a close approach to the U.S. coast would not even be necessary.

A sub wouldn’t need to come as close as 50 kilometers to the U.S. shore, TASS quoted the official as saying, “but in principle, it can.”


(Miami Herald staff writer Nora Gamez Torres contributed to this story.)

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