Cold War Games? Russian Spy Ship Docks Unannounced in Havana on Eve of Historic US-Cuba Talks 1

Arriving unnanounced: The Viktor Leonov CCB-175, a Russian Navy intelligence warship, is seen docked to a pier in Old Havana after sailing into the harbour on the eve of historic talks between the U.S. and Cuba (Getty Images)

Arriving unnanounced: The Viktor Leonov CCB-175, a Russian Navy intelligence warship, is seen docked to a pier in Old Havana after sailing into the harbour on the eve of historic talks between the U.S. and Cuba (Getty Images)

— Viktor Leonov moors up in Old Havana pier during key diplomatic talks 

— U.S. officials play down arrival saying it was ‘not unusual, not alarming’

By Simon Tomlinson for MailOnline

In a throwback to the Cold War, a Russian spy ship caused a stir after unexpectedly docking in Havana on the eve of historic talks between the U.S. and Cuba. There was nothing stealthy about the arrival of the Viktor Leonov CCB-175, which was moored to a pier in Old Havana where cruise ships often dock. But the visit was not officially announced by Cuban authorities.

The timing also raised eyebrows as it came on Tuesday, the eve of historic U.S-Cuba talks aimed at normalising diplomatic relations. U.S. officials in Washington played down the presence of the Russian vessel, saying it was perfectly legal and not at all out of the ordinary. ‘It’s not unprecedented. It’s not unusual. It’s not alarming,’ a defense official told AFP news agency.

The Vishnya or Meridian-class intelligence ship, which has a crew of around 200, went into service in the Black Sea in 1988 before it was transferred seven years later to the northern fleet, according to Russian media. The vessel previously docked in Havana in February and March last year, staying there for a few days. Those visits were also unannounced.

The Russians said the visit was scheduled a long time ago and was yesterday opened up for the children of Russian diplomats. For Cubans, who became increasingly dependent on Russia after the 1959 revolution, the ship’s latest visit has taken them down memory lane. Raphael Hernandez told ABC News: ‘We have normal relations with Russia.

‘One day, when we have normal relations with U.S., we could have an American ship visiting.’

The highest-level U.S. delegation in 35 years will conclude two-day talks in Havana today with both sides cautioning an immediate breakthrough was unlikely.  Senior U.S. officials say they hope Cuba will agree to reopen embassies and appoint ambassadors in each other’s capitals in coming months. The United States also wants travel curbs on its diplomats lifted and unimpeded shipments to its mission in Havana.

During talks on Wednesday, the Americans vowed to continue granting safe haven to Cubans with special protections denied to other nationalities. Cuba complained the U.S. law promotes dangerous illegal immigration and protested against a separate U.S. program that encourages Cuban doctors to defect, calling it a ‘reprehensible brain drain practice.’

Read more: Cold War Spy Games?

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Pentagon: Russian Spy Ship, Tug Operating Near U.S. 1

Just like old times: Tourists in a old American car pass by Russian Vishnya class warship CCB-175 Viktor Leonov, docked, on February 26, 2014, at Havana harbor (AFP/Getty Images)

Just like old times: Tourists in a old American car pass by Russian Vishnya class warship CCB-175 Viktor Leonov, docked, on February 26, 2014, at Havana harbor (AFP/Getty Images)

Ships near nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Ga.

By Bill Gertz, Washington Free Beacon

A Russian intelligence-gathering ship has been operating off the U.S. East Coast and near the Gulf of Mexico for the past month, the Pentagon said Thursday.

“We are aware that the Russian ships Viktor Leonov and Nikolay Chiker are currently operating in waters that are beyond U.S. territorial seas but near Cuba,” said Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman. “We respect the freedom of all nations, as reflected in international law, to operate military vessels beyond the territorial seas of other nations.”

The Leonov is an intelligence gathering ship outfitted with high-tech electronic spying gear. The Chiker is an ocean-going naval tug that has been accompanying the spy ship on its mission.

Pentagon officials suspect the ships were part of a spying operation since March against the U.S. nuclear missile submarine base at Kings Bay, Ga. and other U.S. military facilities

Both ships were detected operating off the coast of Florida near the U.S. Naval Station Mayport, Fla., which is south of the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

The Russian intelligence gathering coincides with heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over Moscow’s recent military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

An official said it is possible that the electronic spying is related to watching U.S. nuclear missile submarines as part of a Russian nuclear exercise.

According to Russian military press reports, some 10,000 Russian troops and 1,000 pieces of military equipment of the Strategic Missile Forces took part in an exercise April 17 to 19—coinciding with the transit of one of the ships, the Chiker, to Cuba from the coast off northern Florida on April 19.

“The exercises will test the cohesiveness and skills of units and commands in the process of alerting and the achievement of training objectives under various circumstances and in any time of the day,” Russian defense spokesman told Interfax.

The Chiker also is known to support submarines and is equipped with lift capability for servicing Russian submarines.

Feature continues here:  Russian Spy Ship

Russian Spy Ship Docked in Havana 1

A Soviet-made Lada limousine passes by Russian Vishnya (also known as Meridian) class warship CCB-175 Viktor Leonov, docked, on February 26, 2014, at Havana harbor

(AFP) A Russian warship was docked in Havana Wednesday, without explanation from Communist Cuba or its state media.

The Viktor Leonov CCB-175 boat, measuring 91.5 meters (300 feet) long and 14.5 meters wide, was docked at the port of Havana’s cruise ship area, near the Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

The Vishnya, or Meridian-class intelligence ship, which has a crew of around 200, went into service in the Black Sea in 1988 before it was transferred seven years later to the northern fleet, Russian media sources said.

Neither Cuban authorities nor state media have mentioned the ship’s visit, unlike on previous tours by Russian warships.

The former Soviet Union was Cuba’s sponsor state through three decades of Cold War. After a period of some distancing under former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, the countries renewed their political, economic and military cooperation.

The ship is reportedly armed with 30mm guns and anti-aircraft missiles.

Its visit comes as isolated Havana’s current economic and political patron, Venezuela, is facing unprecedented violent protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Cuban President Raul Castro’s Communist government is the Americas’ only one-party regime.