Russian Spy Ship Docked in Havana Before US-Cuba Talks

Felipe Pagliery  (Progreso Weekly)

The Viktor Leonov Russian intelligence gathering ship.
The Viktor Leonov Russian intelligence gathering ship.

HAVANA TIMES — Eyebrows went up everywhere on Tuesday (Jan. 20) when a Russian intelligence ship docked in Havana on the eve of the diplomatic talks between Cuba and the United States. Its arrival had not been previously announced by either the Cuban or the Russian government.

It wasn’t the first time that the Viktor Leonov had visited the Cuban capital. It had made similar unannounced stopovers in February and March of 2014. This week’s arrival drew more attention. Was it a coincidence that it took place at such a watershed moment in Cuba-U.S. relations or was it an “in your face” gesture by Russian President Vladimir Putin to President Obama?

Konstantin SivkovKonstantin Sivkov

Some observers — myself included — saw it as a not-so-subtle reminder that Russia has made a major investment in Cuba and plans to hold on to its gains no matter what inroads the U.S. makes in Cuba.

“The Cuban government is trying to reduce political tensions with the United States,” said Konstantin Sivkov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, in an interview with the Russian Free Press agency, but in the process is “departing from the principles of socialism and tolerating in its territory elements of capitalism.”

An improvement in relations “would allow the U.S. to consider Cuba as a country about to open to capitalist society. Washington seeks to consolidate and strengthen this trend, since Cuba’s transition — on capitalist rails — would mean its separation from Russia.

“Cuba is striving to create a more favorable environment for its development,” Sivkov continues. For a long time, it relied completely on the Soviet Union “but [Boris] Yeltsin’s Russia put Cuba in a situation of very hard economic survival.

“Havana believes that situation could be repeated if another Boris Yeltsin comes to power in Russia. That is why Cuba seeks to diversify its political and economic ties with the United States.”

Right now, “Russia’s position in Cuba is much better than the United States’ — and we just need to protect it,” Sivkov sums up.

Aleksandr KonovalovAleksandr Konovalov

And that is why Moscow is reminding everyone that it is still the thousand-pound bear in the middle of the room.

As Aleksei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow, told The Christian Science Monitor, Washington is trying “to maximize the penetration of democratic ideas” in Cuba; Havana is trying to open up “yet still maintaining its regime and relations with Russia,” and “Moscow wants to maintain its ties with Cuba too.”

The Viktor Leonov spy ship’s presence in Havana “sends a clear message to the arriving U.S. delegation,” the newspaper says. “You’re welcome, but Russia is still welcome here as well.”

Aleksandr Konovalov, president of the Institute of Strategic Assessments in Moscow, agrees with that opinion. The ship’s visit “at such a sensitive moment clearly carries a strong political message,” he told the CSM.

Alluding to Russian government hardliners, Konovalov calls the ship’s presence “clearly a victory for those in the Kremlin who want to derail any hopes of improvement in US-Russia relations. And it marks one more small downward notch in a generally deteriorating picture.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Cuba are going to great lengths to minimize the significance of the ship’s visit. Cuba’s official press has not mentioned it, and an unidentified Pentagon official told the French news agency AFP that “it’s not unprecedented, it’s not unusual and it’s not alarming.”

In Moscow, an unidentified source at Northern Fleet headquarters told the Russian agency Tass that the ship was “performing routine tasks in the Caribbean” and stopped in Havana for three days “to resupply” — the same three days that the U.S. delegation would be there.

The Viktor Leonov is a Vishnya-class electronic surveillance ship that has been gathering intelligence along the eastern coast of the United States for a while. It monitors military and some civilian communications and regularly patrols the North Atlantic and the Caribbean.

Built in Poland in 1988, it has a 200-man crew. Its hull designation is SSV-175 (CCB-175 in Cyrillic alphabet), where SSV stands for Sudno Svyazey, or Communications Vessel. It is named after a Navy officer who twice received the Hero of the Soviet Union medal for his World War Two exploits in the Soviet Naval Scouts, the equivalent of the U.S. Navy SEALS.

11 thoughts on “Russian Spy Ship Docked in Havana Before US-Cuba Talks

  • In response to Griffin, the reference to Yeltsin was not made by author Pagliery. It was a quotation from Konstantin Sivkov, president of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Problems.

  • The ship Viktor Leonov is named after a Russian sailor of the same name. In WWII, Viktor Nikolayevitch Leonov helped form the Soviet Naval Scouts, a forerunner of the Russian special forces, or Spetsnaz. He was one tough warrior, and a hero of the USSR, but hardly the peaceful man you imagine.

  • Very few Canadian federal or provincial governments are elected with a full majority of the popular vote. Our Parliament is elected in free and fair democratic elections. The government is formed from those elections according to the fundamental law of the land, the constitution. The government is constrained to act within the laws of the constitution. Yesterday in Parliament, the leader of the opposition, Tom Mulcair, launched a rather effective attack on the government which earned him front page coverage in all the major daily papers and a lead on the CBC news. That would never happen in a dictatorship.

    Perhaps you qualify your comment by calling it a “sort-of-dictatorship” because you would be perfectly happy to see your preferred party rule with 39% of the popular vote? Was Bob Rae’s NDP government a dictatorship, too?

    I don’t support the idea of proportional representation as proposed by Fair Vote because that scheme takes power away from voters and local riding associations and hands that power to political parties and their ruling committees. The political parties would produce the lists of party loyalists who would take the seats assigned in a proportional electoral system. The MP assigned to represent your particular riding may not be at all popular among the people of that riding, but you get stuck with him. These list MPs would be responsible to their political party, not to the voters in their riding. That seems undemocratic to me. Our system is based on the principles of representative and responsible government. Proportional voting lists diminish both principles.

  • It is a comforting photo and for the best. The U.S. people are like us from the same cloth as God and as so form Gods projection on the world as a whole .That said we are all one under God, but some of the collective are decieved into crimes against
    humanity as we all know who they are. The solution is( as with the Nazi) …RUSSIA
    and God of course. Viktor Leonov is a great name for a great ship.
    Thank you

  • I stand by my previous comment .A government that rules with impunity with only 39% of the popular vote is dictatorial in my view.Just because there are worse systems in the world does not mean that we could not do better.I support Fair Vote Canada as it seeks to make changes to our outdated parliamentary system .Question period is a joke and a mockery of elected officials. I said “somewhat” because it is not absolute and I won’t get into a pi##ng contest with you over trying to split hairs.Vote for the neocon if you will , it is your right to do so.

  • The government of Canada does not rule dictatorially. Parliament was elected with 100% of the vote, and the government must answer to Parliament every day during Questions period. Bills are introduced, read, reported, debated amended and voted on before the become law. We also enjoy a free and lively press which questions, criticizes and investigates politicians. We have a full range of civil rights and freedoms as defied in the Canadian Constitution.

    Try living in a real dictatorship before you make the ridiculous claim that Canada is a “somewhat dictatorship”.

  • Thank you John for your input on this.I don’t profess to know everything that concerns the different political systems .At 66 years of age ,I am still learning .i do agree with you that for the most part we all live under a somewhat dictatorship .Even here in Canada ,we elect a government that rules the day ,dictatorially I might add ,with only 39 % of the vote.We all have a long way to go in order to have a better system of governance.

  • A socialist economy is run by the workers, from the bottom and not from the top as in Cuba which is a STATE CAPITALIST economy.
    The Soviet Union was also never communist but was also state capitalist .
    Communism more than socialism requires deep democratic processes and,
    again such a system has never existed.
    Yes, there have been several countries run by parties that called themselves “Communist but they were no more in charge of a communist system than the Democratic and Republican Parties in the USA represent democracy or a representative republic .
    I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you all this.
    I would highly recommend you do daily reading at ZNet to gain a valuable and strictly factual perspective on these things.
    The problem with both state capitalism and free-enterprise capitalism (USA)
    is that they are dictatorships and not democratic in the least .
    Both the people of the USA and the people of Cuba need democratic economies and governments for better lives for all .

  • The article makes an error in history, blaming Cuba’s Special Period on Boris Yeltsin. The Special period began in 1989, when the USSR was facing an economic crisis and made the decision to cut off the massive subsidies they had been sending to Cuba. Yeltsin did not come to power until June 1991. The hardship Cuba experienced during this period began before Yeltsin was in office and were the result of the economic realities the USSR faced, not a consequence of any policy choice.

  • I don’t know much about the Cuban political system other than knowing it is socialist.I do know about capitalism and what it has become. Ever since the downfall of the USSR and the communist rule ,I have been of the opinion that the same thing will eventually happen to capitalism .Capitalism in it’s initial concept was a working system but unfortunately through the corporate greed and power of the multinational nature of same,has become much like communism in disguise.Where there existed many small businesses ,there now exists only a few as all the small ones have been swallowed up by the big ones.An oxymoron in it’s perfect description .Capitalism was supposed to be about fair and free competition.This competition has been eliminated .Case in point.
    A word of advice to my Cuban neighbors ,be careful what you wish for ,you might get more that what you bargained for. Hopefully you can be that middle ground in between communism and capitalism .There is much change that is happening in the world right now. To the Cuban nation ,I wish you well.

  • Let the games begin

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