Russian warships headed to Caribbean for drills as tensions rise over Ukraine, US officials say

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has been tracking Russian warships and aircraft that are expected to arrive in the Caribbean for a military exercise in the coming weeks, in a Russian show of force as tensions rise over Western military support for Ukraine, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The ships also are expected possibly to make port calls in Venezuela and Cuba, as Russia establishes a Western Hemisphere military presence that the senior Biden administration officials said was notable but not concerning. The exercise, which will be monitored by the U.S. military, will involve a “handful” of Russian ships and support vessels, the two officials said.

It's not the first time Russia has sent its ships to the Caribbean. This exercise, however, is taking place as Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that Moscow could take “asymmetrical steps” elsewhere in the world in response to President Joe Biden's decision to allow Ukraine to use U.S.-provided weapons to strike inside Russia to protect Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.

The officials, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity to provide details that had not been announced publicly, said the exercise is “certainly” part of a broader Russian response to the U.S. support for Ukraine, but it also is an effort by Putin to show his navy is still capable of global power projection after losing several ships to Ukrainian strikes.

Ukrainian military officials said in March that Russia had lost one-third of its Black Sea fleet to Ukrainian strikes during the past two years of war.

Russia did not notify the U.S. of the pending exercise, but the ships’ movements have been tracked by the U.S. Navy, the officials said.

Despite Russia not notifying the U.S. — which countries often do to avoid miscalculation — the officials said militaries all over the globe have the right to conduct exercises in international waters and do so regularly. For example, on Friday about 20 NATO countries including the U.S. will begin BALTOPS 24, a major naval and air exercise in the Baltic region near Russia.

The officials said they expect the Russian ships will remain in the region through the summer and will likely conduct similar, follow-up exercises in the Caribbean after this one concludes.

The officials said Congress was notified of the upcoming Russian exercises on Wednesday.