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16 superyachts owned by Russian oligarchs

Western sanctions over moscow's invasion of ukraine led to many luxury vessels being detained in europe.

Two superyachts linked to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich were spotted on the Turkish coast on Tuesday, 'Eclipse' and 'My Solaris'. Mr Abramovich is among several wealthy Russians added to an EU blacklist as governments act to seize their yachts and other luxury assets. AP

Two superyachts linked to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich were spotted on the Turkish coast on Tuesday, 'Eclipse' and 'My Solaris'. Mr Abramovich is among several wealthy Russians added to an EU blacklist as governments act to seize their yachts and other luxury assets. AP

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Several luxury yachts owned by wealthy Russians have been detained across Europe this month.

It comes after the West imposed sanctions on oligarchs over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine .

Some have taken evasive action – two such superyachts linked to billionaire Roman Abramovich were spotted approaching the Turkish coast on Tuesday. A group of Ukrainians tried to stop one of the yachts from docking in Turkey.

Chelsea FC owner Mr Abramovich is one of several oligarchs who were added to an EU blacklist last week as governments acted to seize yachts and other luxury assets owned by the billionaires.

Western sanctions resulted in many large vessels relocating from Europe in the past few weeks. Several have headed to places such as the Maldives, which have no extradition treaty with the US.

Where is the Abramovich-owned yacht heading?

Mr Abramovich's yacht Eclipse was seen heading towards Marmaris on Tuesday, according to data compiled by monitoring site Marine Traffic, which was seen by Reuters.

The previous day, his superyacht Solaris was moored in Bodrum, about 80 kilometres from Marmaris, data showed, after skirting waters of EU countries.

There was no suggestion Mr Abramovich was on board either of the yachts.

Ukrainians attempt to stop Abramovich's yacht docking in Turkey

Ukrainians attempt to stop Abramovich's yacht docking in Turkey

Which yachts have been detained?

On Monday, a superyacht linked to another Russian billionaire was detained by authorities after docking in Gibraltar.

The Axioma , believed to belong to Dmitrievich Pumpyansky, moored at Gibraltar on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Reuters TV footage showed.

Mr Pumpyansky, who is under UK and EU sanctions, owns Russia's largest steel pipe maker TMK. Data shows the 72-metre vessel is owned by a British Virgin Islands holding company called Pyrene investments, Reuters reported. An article published as part of the Panama Papers leaks names Mr Pumpyansky as a beneficiary of the holding.

On March 12, the world's biggest sailing yacht, called Sailing Yacht A and owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko , was seized by Italian police.

Several other luxury yachts have also been detained across Europe, including in Gibraltar, Mallorca in Spain's Balearic Islands and the French coast.

Here are 16 superyachts linked to wealthy Russians

1. Eclipse , a superyacht linked to sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich , was this week spotted heading in the direction of Marmaris in Turkey.

2. Solaris , belonging to Mr Abramovich , moored in Bodrum at the start of the week.

3. The Axioma superyacht, belonging to Russian oligarch Dmitrievich Pumpyansky , who is on the EU's list of sanctioned Russians, was detained by authorities after docking in Gibraltar on Monday.

4. The Crescent , which was seized by the Spanish government in Tarragona, Spain, on March 17. The ship's owner is not publicly known, although it is believed to belong to Russian Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft Oil in Moscow.

5. Ragnar , owned by former KGB officer and Russian oligarch Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, who is not on the EU sanctions list.

6. Tango , owned by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who was sanctioned by the US on March 11.

7. Lady Anastasia , owned by Russian arms manufacturer Alexander Mijeev, is retained at Port Adriano, Mallorca, as a result of sanctions against Russia and Belarus issued by the European Union.

8. Valerie was seized by the Spanish government in Barcelona, Spain, on March 15. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that the ship is linked to Rostec State Corporation’s chief executive Sergey Chemezov.

9. The $578 million Sailing Yacht A owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko was seized by Italian police in the port of Trieste on March 12.

10. The 156-metre Dilbar superyacht is owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov.

11. La Datcha belongs to Russian billionaire businessman Oleg Tinkov.

12. Lady M , owned by Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov, was seized by Italian police on March 5.

13. Amore Vero was seized in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat on March 3 by French authorities. The yacht is linked to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who runs the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

14. Quantum Blue , owned by a company linked to Russian billionaire Sergei Galitsky, the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, was seized in southern France on March 3.

15. Superyacht Luna is owned by Russian billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov.

16. Triple Seven is owned by Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov, according to media reports. The yacht was last up for sale in 2020 for €38 million ($41.85 million).

Emirati pilot prepares to 'return to Earth' at end of 45-day Mars simulation mission

U.S. seizes mega yacht owned by oligarch with close ties to Putin

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain — The U.S. government seized a mega yacht in Spain owned by an oligarch with close ties to the Russian president on Monday, the first in the government’s sanctions enforcement initiative to “seize and freeze” giant boats and other pricey assets of Russian elites .

Spain’s Civil Guard and U.S. federal agents descended on the yacht at the Marina Real in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Associated Press reporters at the scene saw police going in and out of the boat on Monday morning.

The seizure was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter. The people could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. A Spanish Civil Guard spokesman confirmed that officers from the Spanish police body and from the FBI were at the marina searching the vessel Monday morning and said further details would be released later.

A Civil Guard source told The Associated Press that the immobilized yacht is Tango, a 78-meter (254-feet) vessel that carries Cook Islands flag and that  Superyachtfan.com , a specialized website that tracks the world’s largest and most exclusive recreational boats, values at $120 million. The source was also not authorized to be named in media reports and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

The yacht is among the assets linked to Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets, according to U.S. Treasury Department documents. All of Vekselberg’s assets in the U.S. are frozen and U.S. companies are forbidden from doing business with him and his entities.

The move is the first time the U.S. government has seized an oligarch’s yacht since Attorney General Merrick Garland and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen assembled a task force known as REPO — short for Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs — as an effort to enforce sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

Vekselberg has long had ties to the U.S. including a green card he once held and homes in New York and Connecticut. The Ukrainian-born businessman built his fortune by investing in the aluminum and oil industries in the post-Soviet era.

Vekselberg was also questioned in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and has worked closely with his American cousin, Andrew Intrater, who heads the New York investment management firm Columbus Nova.

Vekselberg and Intrater were thrust into the spotlight in the Mueller probe after the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels released a memo that claimed $500,000 in hush money was routed through Columbus Nova to a shell company set up by Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Columbus Nova denied that Vekselberg played any role in its payments to Cohen.

Vekselberg and Intrater met with Cohen at Trump Tower, one of several meetings between members of Trump’s inner circle and high-level Russians during the 2016 campaign and transition.

The 64-year-old mogul founded Renova Group more than three decades ago. The group holds the largest stake in United Co. Rusal, Russia’s biggest aluminum producer, among other investments.

Vekselberg was first sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018, and again in March of this year, shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began. Vekselberg has also been sanctioned by authorities in the United Kingdom.

The U.S. Justice Department has also launched a sanctions enforcement task force known as KleptoCapture , which also aims to enforce financial restrictions in the U.S. imposed on Russia and its billionaires, working with the FBI, Treasury and other federal agencies. That task force will also target financial institutions and entities that have helped oligarchs move money to dodge sanctions.

The White House has said that many allied countries, including German, the U.K, France, Italy and others are involved in trying to collect and share information against Russians targeted for sanctions. In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden warned oligarch that the U.S. and European allies would “find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets.”

“We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” he said.

Wednesday’s capture is not the first time Spanish authorities have been involved in the seizure of a Russian oligarch’s superyacht. Officials there said they had seized a vessel valued at over $140 million owned by the CEO of a state-owned defense conglomerate and a close Putin ally.

French authorities have also seized superyachts, including one believed to belong to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who runs Russian oil giant Rosneft, which has been on the U.S. sanctions list since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Italy has also seized several yachts and other assets.

Italian financial police moved quickly seizing the superyacht “Lena” belonging to Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch close to Putin, in the port of San Remo; the 65-meter (215-foot) “Lady M” owned by Alexei Mordashov in nearby Imperia, featuring six suites and estimated to be worth 65 million euros; as well as villas in Tuscany and Como, according to government officials.

Para reported from Madrid and Balsamo reported from Washington.

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The U.S. seized Russian oligarchs' superyachts. Now, American taxpayers pay the price

Ayesha Rascoe, photographed for NPR, 2 May 2022, in Washington DC. Photo by Mike Morgan for NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe speaks with Stephanie Baker, senior writer at Bloomberg News, about the complications involved in seizing and maintaining superyachts owned by sanctioned Russian billionaires.

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A sleek, black-hulled superyacht at anchor in a bay ringed by hills, photographed from water level, with a small sailing dinghy in the foreground

Revealed: Russia-linked superyachts ‘going dark’ to avoid sanctions threat

Vessels with ties to Russian oligarchs hit by sanctions are no longer reporting their position to an automatic global locator

I n the sparkling azure waters of Antigua, the gleaming £95m superyacht Alfa Nero could be seen at anchor last week by sightseers enjoying the Caribbean coastline. But few of the tourists who spotted its sleek black hull would have appreciated that it was quite a find.

Since the invasion of Ukraine , the superyacht, which is linked to the Russian billionaire Andrey Guryev, has vanished off the global tracking maps used to locate marine traffic.

An investigation by the Observer this weekend reveals it is one of at least six superyachts linked to UK-sanctioned oligarchs which have “gone dark” on ocean tracking systems. The owners of these yachts will almost certainly realise they are at risk of being targeted in a global hunt for the assets of Russia’s super-rich.

At least 13 such vessels with a total value of nearly £2bn have already been impounded since the invasion of Ukraine, from southern France to Fiji. In the latter case, the superyacht Amadea, allegedly linked to the gold billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, was seized on behalf of the US .

Analysts report an increase in Russian-linked yachts which are turning off the automatic identification system (AIS) equipment used for tracking large vessels. The system can be turned off for legitimate reasons, but experts believe some vessels want to avoid detection.

An analysis by the Observer of AIS data compiled by the maritime and aviation market intelligence firm VesselsValue reveals other superyachts which have “gone dark” for more than a month include:

The 72-metre (238ft) superyacht Clio, linked to industrialist Oleg Deripaska, which sailed from the Indian Ocean to Turkey after the invasion. Its last transmitted location was on 18 April in the Black Sea, within range of the Russian ports of Sochi and Novorossiysk.

The 70-metre Galactica Super Nova, linked to the oligarch Vagit Alekperov, the sanctioned former president of Lukoil. The last transmitted location of the vessel was on 2 March off the Croatian coast.

The 140-metre Ocean Victory, linked to the sanctioned oligarch Viktor Rashnikov, which last transmitted its location at anchor in the Maldives on 1 March.

One member of crew on a superyacht linked to a Russian oligarch sanctioned by the UK told the Observer last week: “We were told to turn off the AIS. We removed the screws on the power plug and pulled it out.”

There are about 9,300 superyachts on the seas, worth more than £50bn, according to industry data. An estimated 10% of that fleet is owned by Russians.

The rear deck of a superyacht with a striking overhanging glazed canopy, through which a wide stream of water is falling into a small swimming pool below

One of the first superyachts to be impounded was the 86-metre Amore Vero, linked to the oil tycoon Igor Sechin , which was seized by customs officers at a shipyard at La Ciotat, near Marseille, on 2 March.

Italian authorities also impounded the 143-metre Sailing Yacht A on 12 March in Trieste. It is believed to be owned by the billionaire entrepreneur Andrey Melnichenko. He was sanctioned by the UK on 15 March.

Melnichenko’s other superyacht, the futuristic £240m Motor Yacht A, has disappeared from global tracking system. Its last confirmed location was on 10 March in the Maldives.

The last recorded location of the Alfa Nero on AIS was in the Caribbean on 3 March, when it was anchored at Philipsburg in Sint Maarten. The yacht is operating on a skeleton crew and has put its tender, the Alfa Fish, into storage.

Guryev, 62, a Russian who made his fortune with the Russian fertiliser giant PhosAgro, is reported by maritime sources to be the owner of the vessel. He was revealed to have bought London’s largest private residence, the 25-bedroom mansion Witanhurst, for £50m in 2008.

He has regularly enjoyed sailing on the Alfa Nero. The vessel is also used by his family, including his son (also Andrey) and his son’s wife, Valeria, who studied at the London College of Fashion and once reportedly stated on Instagram that she was “too pretty for work”. Like many yachts, it is owned via an opaque offshore structure, and Guryev has denied being the owner.

Other yachts which have not been tracked by AIS for more than a month include the Galactica Super Nova, which has a glass-bottomed swimming pool with a waterfall. It left Tivat in Montenegro on 2 March and promptly disappeared off the system.

The Clio, linked to Deripaska, sailed more than 3,000 miles after the invasion, from the Maldives, through the Suez Canal, across the Mediterranean and into the Bosphorus, gateway to the Black Sea and its Russian ports. In the Clio’s case, one reason it may have gone dark could be the perilous situation in the Black Sea arising from the war.

Futuristic white superyacht with several decks tied up at a quayside

Other yachts which have not transmitted a confirmed location via AIS for at least a month include the My Sky, linked to the cigarette tycoon Igor Kesaev, which last reported its location in the Maldives on 30 March. The Maldives has no extradition treaty with the US, and at least five yachts linked to Russian owners have headed for its waters since the invasion. Other vessels, including two owned by Roman Abramovich, have headed to Turkey.

Under maritime rules, AIS should always be in operation when ships are under way or at anchor. All vessels of 300 gross tonnage and upwards must be fitted with it. A cruising vessel will typically transmit its location frequently, but it can turn the system off when in port. The data is relayed by radio receivers and satellites.

Sam Tucker at VesselsValue said: “There are some vessels where we would be previously getting a signal every few minutes from transponders and we are now seeing gaps of months. It’s very likely that some have flicked off the switch and gone into stealth mode.”

None of the sanctioned oligarchs linked to the six superyachts suspected of turning off their AIS responded to a request for comment.

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Russian Superyachts Find Safe Haven in Turkey, Raising Concerns in Washington

Turkey’s welcoming ports are symptoms of a much larger problem: evasion of U.S. sanctions against Russia.

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By Elif Ince ,  Michael Forsythe and Carlotta Gall

PORT AZURE, Turkey — On a hot August evening at a marina on Turkey’s southern coast, the crew of the Flying Fox was hard at work, keeping the 446-foot superyacht immaculate for future guests willing to pay $3 million a week. One crew member leaned over the railing at the stern, wiping the highly polished surface next to the ship’s nameplate. Another was busy with a squeegee, cleaning glass.

The Flying Fox, the world’s biggest yacht available for charter, played host last year to Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who skipped the Met Gala in New York to cruise the Mediterranean and enjoy the vessel’s over-the-top amenities: a 4,300-square-foot wellness center with a Turkish bath and a fully equipped beauty spa, among many others.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, the Flying Fox has been caught up in the dragnet of international sanctions designed to hobble the lifestyles of the oligarchs who help sustain President Vladimir V. Putin’s rule.

Yet, while some superyachts owned by or linked to Russian oligarchs facing sanctions have been seized in ports around the world, the Flying Fox and others caught up in the broader Russia penalties have found safe haven in Turkey, the only NATO member not to impose sanctions on Russia.

The flotilla of Russian superyachts in Turkish waters is raising tensions with the United States, which sees Turkey’s welcoming of the vessels as a symptom of the much larger problem: Russia’s access to Turkey’s financial system, potentially undermining Western sanctions.

Turkey’s strongman leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has criticized Western sanctions against Russia, said in March that Turkey could not impose sanctions because of its energy needs and industry deals. “There is nothing to be done there,” he said.

In all, at least 32 yachts tied to oligarchs and sanctioned entities have sheltered in the country’s waters in recent months, able to move about or moor in its picturesque coves and bays without fear of seizure, according to a New York Times analysis. Ownership records of superyachts for the ultrawealthy are notorious for being hidden behind layers of shell companies. The Times analysis was constructed with news accounts linking Russian oligarchs to particular yachts that were then matched with vessel positions available on commercial sites such as MarineTraffic . In many instances, the yachts were spotted in Turkish waters by a Times reporter.

On Aug. 19, the Treasury Department issued a statement saying that the deputy treasury secretary, Wally Adeyemo, had told a Turkish official that the United States was concerned about Russians using Turkey to evade sanctions.

Three days later, Mr. Adeyemo sent a letter to Turkish business groups warning of penalties if they worked with Russian individuals or entities facing sanctions. Turkish banks, he added, risked losing vital correspondent relationships with global banks — and even access to the U.S. dollar — if they did business with sanctioned Russian banks.

In September, several Turkish banks stopped accepting the Mir payment system — the Russian equivalent of Visa or MasterCard. Their actions came after the United States warned that financial institutions expanding the use of Mir or entering into new agreements risked running afoul of American sanctions against Russia.

Nevertheless, Turkish marinas continue to service sanctioned Russians and their superyachts.

The warm turquoise waters, secluded beaches and trendy establishments of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast have long made it a popular and convenient destination for Russian yacht owners and charterers during the summer. Local restaurant menus are printed in three languages: Turkish, English and Russian.

In June, the Flying Fox was singled out by the United States as “ blocked property ” and its management company, Imperial Yachts, was also sanctioned. Nevertheless, the Flying Fox has been moored since at least May at Port Azure, a marina in the posh resort town of Göcek. Other superyachts there owned by or linked to sanctioned Russians have been cruising from one postcard-worthy cove to another in the area.

The town’s polluted waters are unsuitable for swimming, an attractive feature for superyacht owners because it keeps away crowds and unwanted publicity. And the vessels can easily steam to pristine waters nearby. If the pampered guests have any unfulfilled needs, small boats roam around the harbor, selling groceries, ice cream, Turkish crepes and even massages.

Port Azure, touted as the first “mega-yacht-only marina” in Turkey, was opened last year by STFA, one of Turkey’s biggest conglomerates. The marina , which prides itself on its website as being a “haven” that makes “problems big and small go away,” has hosted at least eight yachts linked to Russian oligarchs or sanctioned companies this past summer, the Times analysis found.

On June 1, a Turkish yacht broker posted on Instagram a video taken at Port Azure showing a lineup of five yachts collectively worth almost $1 billion, including the Flying Fox; the Lana, recently listed at $1.8 million a week for charter by Imperial; and the Galactica Super Nova, linked to Vagit Alekperov, a sanctioned Putin ally, according to news media reports.

As of Oct. 20 there were at least 13 yachts in Turkey linked to sanctions, the Times analysis found. Of those, four were owned by or linked to sanctioned individuals and nine have recently been offered for charter by Imperial, the sanctioned Monaco-based company.

A spokeswoman for Imperial Yachts said that after the firm was sanctioned in June, its clients terminated their contracts with the company and that it “no longer manages or charters” any of the yachts in Turkish waters.

But until late August, Imperial advertised yachts for charter and for sale on its website, including yachts in Turkish waters. After an inquiry by The Times, the listings were removed from Imperial’s website, which now displays only a notice announcing that the company had been sanctioned. The company spokeswoman said that it had “kept its other pages alive as a reflection of its former brand.”

“During the time that the other website pages were visible, Imperial did not engage in any business engagements,” Imperial said in response to emailed questions.

Roman Abramovich, the most visible Russian oligarch recently seen in Turkey, does not use Imperial Yachts to manage the construction of his opulent yachts or staff them after they are put to sea. Four yachts owned by or linked to Mr. Abramovich, who has been sanctioned by Britain and the European Union, the Times analysis shows, were in Turkey in August.

Should the United States choose, it has tools at its disposal to enforce its sanctions on the Russian oligarchs, even if their vessels are in Turkish waters and even if the Turkish government is unwilling to cooperate, said Daniel Tannebaum, a former sanctions official who served at the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

One way, he said, would be to place sanctions on companies that service the oligarchs’ yachts in Turkey — the marinas, caterers and fueling companies. In that case, not just Russian yacht owners but also the many American yacht owners now in Turkish waters would have to take their business elsewhere, while the banks that do business with these companies might close their accounts so as to avoid becoming a target.

Superyachts are a significant source of income for the marinas, as well as other businesses in the area. In one example, Turkish news media outlets reported in April that Mr. Abramovich’s biggest yacht, the 533-foot-long Eclipse, ran up a fuel bill of $1.66 million in the port town of Marmaris. Its tanks took 22 hours to fill.

One of the four superyachts linked to Mr. Abramovich, the 460-foot Solaris, is moored in the Yalıkavak Marina in Bodrum, a trendy resort town in Turkey’s south. While lying idle, it still has 20 crew members who make trips every day to provision it, supply it with water and electricity and dispose of its waste, according to a port employee with direct knowledge of the matter, who spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Solaris also receives a truckload of food every week through a catering company, he said, adding: “Twenty cases of asparagus — what would you do with so much asparagus?”

Yalıkavak is Turkey’s most luxurious marina, with stores like Prada, Louis Vuitton and Valentino on a promenade lined with palm trees overlooking the harbor. At least three yachts recently offered for charter by Imperial, the sanctioned management company, and three other yachts owned by or linked to oligarchs moored at Yalıkavak Marina this summer, the Times analysis shows.

In an emailed statement, the marina said that even though Turkey has not adopted sanctions, because it recognizes “international concerns,” the Solaris has been kept outside the marina’s boundaries. As for the vessels associated with Imperial Yachts, the marina said that it did not know, as the summer is “quite a busy time” and that it didn’t have a system in place to check whether an individual yacht might fall under international sanctions.

In August, the Eclipse, one of the yachts linked to Mr. Abramovich, was anchored in the middle of the bay off Göcek, a three-and-a-half-hour drive down the coast from Yalıkavak.

On an early morning in August, Ömer Kırpat, 56, was fishing on the shore in Göcek, sitting under a willow tree overlooking the yachts.

“The bells aren’t jingling,” he said, pointing to the bells attached to his rods to alert him when the fish bite. He showed his bucket with one lone fish inside, explaining that the fish avoid the shore because of pollution and noise from the boats.

Port Azure, the Göcek marina hosting the Flying Fox, was built over the port of a state-owned paper factory where Mr. Kırpat worked for 13 years as a security guard until it was privatized in 2001. He used to go there to swim, fish and have picnics every weekend with other factory workers and their families. “It was sparkly clean,” he said. “We caught the biggest fish there.”

He tried to go into Port Azure last year but was chased away. “We’re banned,” he said. “Soon they won’t even allow us to look inside. It’s heartbreaking.”

Michael Forsythe is a reporter on the investigations team. He was previously a correspondent in Hong Kong, covering the intersection of money and politics in China. He has also worked at Bloomberg News and is a United States Navy veteran. More about Michael Forsythe

Carlotta Gall is a senior correspondent currently covering the war in Ukraine. She previously was Istanbul bureau chief, covered the aftershocks of the Arab Spring from Tunisia, and reported from the Balkans during the war in Kosovo and Serbia, and from Afghanistan and Pakistan after 2001. She was on a team that won a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan. More about Carlotta Gall

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Russian military exercises in the Caribbean: Here's what to expect

By Alex Sundby

Updated on: June 12, 2024 / 8:15 PM EDT / CBS News

Three Russian ships and a nuclear-powered submarine arrived in Cuban waters Wednesday ahead of military exercises  in the Caribbean. While the exercises aren't considered a threat to the U.S., American ships were deployed to shadow the Russians, U.S. officials told CBS News.

The Russian warships  were seen arriving in Havana's harbor on Wednesday morning and were expected to stay in Cuba until Monday. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday the U.S. was closely monitoring the Russian ships.

"We have seen this kind of thing before and we expect to see this kind of thing again," Sullivan said.

The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the submarine is nuclear powered but it isn't carrying nuclear weapons, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported. White House national security spokesman John Kirby told CBS News senior White House and political correspondent Ed O'Keefe last week that there was no indication nuclear weapons would be "at play" during the vessels' time in the Caribbean.

What Russian ships are in Cuba?

According to the Cuban Foreign Ministry, the three Russian ships are a frigate, a fleet oil tanker and a salvage tug. The three ships and the submarine headed across the Atlantic separately, Martin reported.

The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov, part of the Russian naval detachment visiting Cuba, arrives at Havana's harbor, June 12, 2024.

Russia has used the frigate, the Admiral Gorshkov, to test its Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles , according to the Reuters news agency.

Two American destroyers and two ships that tow sonar equipment behind them were shadowing the submarine, Martin reported. Another destroyer and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter were shadowing the three Russian ships. The U.S. Navy also used little sailboats fitted with cameras, known as sail drones, to shadow the Russian ships as they got close to Cuba.

The Admiral Gorshkov and the submarine carried out drills in the Atlantic that simulated a missile strike on enemy ships, the Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov takes part in an exercise on the use of high-precision weapons in the Atlantic Ocean, in this still image from video released June 11, 2024.

While the Russian ships are in Cuba, the U.S. Navy ships shadowing them are expected to wait for the Russians and continue shadowing them when they leave port, Martin reported.

The ships' arrival in Havana — which the Cuban Foreign Ministry said was expected to include the fanfare of one Russian ship firing 21 salvos in a salute to Cuba — comes ahead of Russia carrying out air and naval exercises in the Caribbean in the coming weeks, Martin reported.

The exercises, which will include long-range bombers, will be the first simultaneous air and naval maneuvers Russia has carried out in the Caribbean since 2019, Martin reported. The exercises will be conducted over the summer, culminating in a worldwide naval exercise in the fall.

"Clearly this is them signaling their displeasure about what we're doing for Ukraine ," Kirby told O'Keefe. "So we're going to watch it, we're going to monitor it, it's not unexpected. … But we don't anticipate, we don't expect that there'll be any imminent threat or any threat at all, quite frankly, to American national security in the region, in the Caribbean region, or anywhere else."

The Russian ships are expected to head to Venezuela after Cuba, but it's unclear what the submarine will do, Martin reported.

The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan and the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, part of the Russian naval detachment visiting Cuba, arrive at Havana's harbor, June 12, 2024.

What was the Cuban missile crisis?

The events in the Caribbean are different from the Cuban missile crisis that happened over 60 years ago. The 1962 crisis unfolded after the U.S. discovered launch sites in Cuba for Soviet ballistic nuclear missiles.

Over the course of 13 days, the crisis brought the Soviet Union and the U.S. dangerously close to nuclear war. A potential conflict was averted when the Kennedy administration reached a deal with the Kremlin for the missiles to be removed from Cuba.

Alex Sundby is a senior editor at CBSNews.com. In addition to editing content, Alex also covers breaking news, writing about crime and severe weather as well as everything from multistate lottery jackpots to the July Fourth hot dog eating contest.

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What are Russian warships doing in the Caribbean?

The frigate Admiral Gorshkov and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan arrived Wednesday in Havana fresh from exercises in the North Atlantic Ocean.

U.S. forces are keeping close watch on a flotilla of Russian warships that reached Cuba on Wednesday in an apparent show of force by President Vladimir Putin flexing his missiles in the Western Hemisphere.

The port call in Havana, Moscow’s longtime ally, comes less than two weeks after the Biden administration said it would allow Ukraine to use U.S.-provided weaponry against some military targets inside Russia.

The four Russian vessels arrived in Havana Harbor fresh from military exercises in the North Atlantic Ocean, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. They’re due to stay through Monday.

The ships aren’t carrying nuclear weapons, the Cuban and Russian foreign ministries have said, “so their stop in our country does not represent a threat to the region,” Havana said last week.

Here’s what you need to know.

Russia practiced firing high-precision missiles in the Atlantic

The Russian flotilla includes the frigate Admiral Gorshkov and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, a medium tanker and a rescue tugboat. Even without nuclear weapons, the frigate and the submarine are capable of launching Zircon hypersonic missiles, Kalibr cruise missiles and Onyx anti-ship missiles, Russia’s most highly touted modern weapons.

Several hours before entering the Havana harbor, Russian defense officials said, the flotilla completed an exercise in “the use of precision missile weapons.” Sailors used computer simulations to “hit” targets without launching actual missiles.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla. Lavrov affirmed Russia’s “continued support for Havana in its just demand for a complete and immediate end” to Washington’s 62-year embargo on most trade with Cuba and the removal of the country from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

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The visit came on Russia Day, when Russians mark the dissolution of the Soviet Union. State television highlighted extensive coverage of the event in the U.S. media, including clips from CNN. One Russian reporter described the visit as retaliation for Biden’s decision to allow Ukraine to strike inside Russia with American weapons.

“Last week, President Vladimir Putin made it clear that it reserves the right for a mirror response — that is, supplying long-range weapons to countries that feel the pressure of the United States,” the Russia 24 reporter said.

Cuba, mired in its worst economic crisis in years, is welcoming its longtime supporter

Cubans lined the Havana waterfront Wednesday to see the Russian ships arrive. The Russians fired 21 salvos in honor of their hosts; the Cubans responded with an artillery salute from the San Carlos de La Cabaña Fortress.

Cuba’s foreign ministry said the visit reflects “the historical friendly relations” between Havana and Moscow, ties that go back to Soviet support for Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution and Moscow’s purchase of sugar, rum and other products to soften the loss of U.S. trade at the outset of the embargo.

Cuba is currently mired in a dire economic crisis, including shortages of food, electricity and fuel, reminiscent of the so-called Special Period of the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and support from Moscow sharply dropped.

Cuba emerged from years of deprivation with the support of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and improved relations with Russia under Putin. Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow would continue to provide humanitarian support to Cuba.

The Russian foreign ministry thanked Cuba for its “principled position” on Ukraine. Rodríguez Parrilla, the Cuban foreign minister, said the country condemns “the increasingly aggressive stance of the U.S. government and NATO,” including sanctions against Russia.

Lavrov has been a frequent visitor to the region. He traveled in February to Venezuela, where he affirmed Russia’s support for the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s successor. He stopped in Cuba during that trip also.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Putin in Moscow in May.

The U.S. doesn’t see a threat, but is monitoring the visit

Port calls among friendly nations are common. The Cuban foreign ministry this week announced that a Canadian patrol vessel would arrive in Havana on Friday to commemorate 80 years of uninterrupted diplomatic relations between Havana and Ottawa.

But the U.S. Defense Department has been tracking the Russian visit to Cuba since it was announced June 6. U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels are “going to continue to monitor,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Wednesday. ABC News reported that three U.S. Navy destroyers, a Coast Guard Cutter and Canadian and French frigates were keeping watch .

Singh said the Russian exercises didn’t pose a threat to the United States.

“This is not a surprise,” she said. Such “routine naval visits” by the Russians, she said, have occurred “during different administrations.”

A spokesman for U.S. Southern Command said the organization routinely monitors “activities of concern” in its area of responsibility. Authorities anticipate that the Russian vessels might also visit Venezuela. Maduro’s government, also under heavy sanction by the United States, has scheduled a presidential election for July.

Retired Adm. Jim Stavridis, who headed Southern Command from 2006 to 2009, said naval deployments to the Caribbean are “long and difficult” for Russian forces, and provide “good practice for our forces, tracking and monitoring them.”

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also said there was no cause for American concern. “Military drills are a normal practice in various regions of the world, especially for such a major maritime power as the Russian Federation,” Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

Putin is showing he ‘still has the ability to operate in the U.S. sphere of influence’

Russian forces have made several visits to Cuba and Venezuela in recent decades. In 2018, Moscow sent two supersonic, nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela for a brief stop. The next year, as the Trump administration stepped up efforts to oust Maduro, Russia dispatched 100 troops and equipment to Venezuela and signed an agreement allowing it to send ships.

Of course, the most famous Russian visit to the region came in 1962, when the U.S. discovery of Soviet missile sites in Cuba brought the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev resolved the two-week Cuban missile crisis peacefully with an agreement that each side would withdraw missiles deployed near the other and that they would establish direct communications — the so-called red telephone — to forestall similar crises in the future.

Videos now of a Russian submarine arriving in Cuba, political scientist Vladimir Rouvinski said, help Moscow show that “efforts by the United States to diminish their presence everywhere, in particular in Latin America, are not working.”

“We have to see that Russia is not willing to abandon Latin America,” said Rouvinski, of Icesi University in Colombia, even as its military is consumed by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Putin aims to signal that “he still has the ability to operate in the U.S. sphere of influence,” said Cynthia Arnson, a distinguished fellow at the Wilson Center’s Latin America Program.

The U.S. stages similar exercises near Russia and China

The United States has a long history of deploying the Navy and other forces to demonstrate its range and capabilities in support of allies and against adversaries.

In May, the Destroyer USS Halsey conducted what the Navy called a “Freedom of Navigation Operation” to challenge “restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Vietnam.”

A spokesperson for China’s Eastern Theater Command accused the United States of having “publicly hyped” the ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait , the Associated Press reported. Chinese Navy Senior Capt. Li Xi said the command sent naval and air forces to monitor.

Last year, the destroyer USS Nitze and the amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney made separate port calls to Istanbul on the Bosporus. That’s roughly 20 miles from the Black Sea, where Ukraine has used sea drones and missiles to attack a Russian fleet .

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Russian ships, submarine pass coast of Florida. Why, and what is the US doing about it?

What are the russian vessels admiral gorshkov frigate, fleet oil tanker pashin, rescue tug nikolay chiker & nuclear-powered sub kazan..

yachts russia

Three Russian Navy ships and a nuclear-powered submarine seem to be passing the Florida coast Tuesday, June 11, on the way to Cuba for a military exercise , according to open-source intelligence analysts on social media . A tweet on X, formerly known as Twitter, said that the US Coast Guard Cutter Stone may be shadowing the Russian flotilla off the east coast of Florida abeam of Cape Canaveral.

On Wednesday, June 5, a U.S. official told the media that Russia planned to conduct naval exercises with combat vessels in the Caribbean region. The United States did not see the expected arrival of the flotilla to the Western Hemisphere to be threatening, but the official told Reuters the U.S. Navy will monitor the exercises. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details that had not been made public yet.

Cuba said in a release last week the ships carried no nuclear weapons and did not represent a threat.

"This visit corresponds to the historical friendly relations between Cuba and the Russian Federation and strictly adheres to the international regulations," Cuba's foreign ministry said in a statement .

However, the visit comes as tensions rise between the United States and Russia over U.S. support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian forces, U.S. officials told the media. It also comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia could provide long-range weapons to countries within range of Western targets in response to Western military support to Ukraine in the war that has lasted over two years.

Last month, President Joe Biden authorized Ukraine to use U.S. weapons to strike targets in Russia , a major shift in U.S. policy. On Friday, Biden publicly apologized to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for delays in U.S. military assistance and announced the U.S. was sending a $225 million package including what the Secretary of State's office described as "air defense interceptors, artillery systems and munitions, armored vehicles, anti-tank weapons, and other capabilities."

How many Russian ships and submarines are off the coast of Florida?

According to the Foreign Ministry in Havana , the Russian vessels visiting Cuba are the Admiral Gorshkov frigate and support ships including the fleet oil tanker Pashin, the rescue tug Nikolay Chiker, and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan.

How long will the Russian ships and submarine be in the area?

The Russian ships are due to arrive on Wednesday, June 12, and stay for a week, according to the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.

The U.S. officials said they expected the Russian ships to remain in the region througout the summer, the Associated Press reported.

What will the Russian ships and submarine be doing while they're in the Caribbean?

"As part of Russia’s regular military exercises, we anticipate that this summer, Russia will conduct heightened naval and air activity near the United States. These actions will culminate in a global Russian naval exercise this fall," the U.S. official told reporters, according to Reuters.

"We are expecting that Russia will temporarily send combat naval vessels to the Caribbean region and these ships will likely conduct port calls in Cuba and possibly Venezuela. There may also be some aircraft deployments or flights in the region," he said.

The Cuban foreign minister said the Russian sailors would "follow a program of activities that includes courtesy visits to the head of the Revolutionary War Navy and the governor of Havana, and visit sites of historical and cultural interest."

Do the Russian ships and submarine off the coast of Florida have nuclear weapons?

"This visit, which is part of the historic friendly relations between Cuba and the Russian Federation, strictly adheres to the international conventions to which the State of Cuba is a party," the release from Cuba's Foreign Ministry said. "Since none of these ships carry nuclear weapons, their stopover in our country represents no threat to the region."

A U.S. official said the U.S. intelligence community did not believe the submarine, while nuclear-powered, was carrying nuclear weapons.

What is the U.S. doing about the Russian ships and submarine off the coast?

OSINT analysts have been posting updates showing multiple vessels in the area that could be shadowing the Russian ships. Some of the vessels names include the USS Truxtun and USS Donald Cook destroyers, the Coast Guard's Cutter Stone and the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec, with at least at least one U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon and Canadian CP-140 Aurora.

Has Russia sent ships this way before?

Naval exercises are common worldwide, and the official said the Biden administration was not concerned since Russia has sailed ships into the Western Hemisphere every year from 2013 to 2020.

However, the official also said Russian naval activity had increased after the U.S. showed support for Ukraine.

"This is about Russia showing that it's still capable of some level of global power projection," the official said.

In 2019, the U.S. military and Coast Guard tracked a Russian spy ship , identified as the Viktor Leonov, as it operated off the coast from North Carolina to Florida. The Coast Guard issued a marine safety bulletin about the ship, which the agency said was operating in an "unsafe manner" by not responding to radio calls and running without lights.

The Viktor Leonov, whuch CNN reported is outfitted with high-tech spying equipment designed to intercept signals, has been spotted se v eral times over the years, most recently off the coast of Hawaii .

Steve Holland, Reuters, contributed to this story.

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US submarine pulls into Guantanamo Bay a day after Russian warships arrive in Cuba

A fleet of Russian warships reached Cuban waters on Wednesday ahead of planned military exercises in the Caribbean in what some see as a projection of strength as tensions grow over Western support for Ukraine. (AP Video shot by Ariel Fernández and Osvaldo Angulo)

Russia's Kazan nuclear-powered submarine arrives at the port of Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. A fleet of Russian warships reached Cuban waters on Wednesday ahead of planned military exercises in the Caribbean. (AP Photo/Ariel Ley)

Russia’s Kazan nuclear-powered submarine arrives at the port of Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. A fleet of Russian warships reached Cuban waters on Wednesday ahead of planned military exercises in the Caribbean. (AP Photo/Ariel Ley)

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People watch the Russian Navy Admiral Gorshkov frigate arrive at the port of Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. A fleet of Russian warships reached Cuban waters on Wednesday ahead of planned military exercises in the Caribbean. (AP Photo/Ariel Ley)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. Navy submarine has arrived in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in a show of force as a fleet of Russian warships gather for planned military exercises in the Caribbean.

U.S. Southern Command said the USS Helena, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, pulled into the waters near the U.S. base in Cuba on Thursday, just a day after a Russian frigate, a nuclear-powered submarine, an oil tanker and a rescue tug crossed into Havana Bay after drills in the Atlantic Ocean.

The stop is part of a “routine port visit” as the submarine travels through Southern Command’s region, it said in a social media post.

Other U.S. ships also have been tracking and monitoring the Russian drills, which Pentagon officials say do not represent a threat to the United States.

“This is not a surprise. We’ve seen them do these type of port calls before,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Wednesday when asked about the Russian drills. “We of course take it seriously, but these exercises don’t pose a threat to the United States.”

The exercises, however, come less than two weeks after President Joe Biden authorized Ukraine to use U.S.-provided weapons to strike inside Russia to protect Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Russian President Vladimir Putin then suggested his military could respond with “asymmetrical steps” elsewhere in the world.

United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, front center, shakes hands with Germany's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, center row left, during a group photo of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Singh said it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more Russian activity around the United States in such global exercises. The drills are in international waters, and U.S. officials expect the Russian ships to remain in the region through the summer and possibly also stop in Venezuela.

Russia is a longtime ally of Venezuela and Cuba, and its warships and aircraft have periodically made forays into the Caribbean.

Russian ships have occasionally docked in Havana since 2008, when a group of Russian vessels entered Cuban waters in what state media described as the first such visit in almost two decades. In 2015, a reconnaissance and communications ship arrived unannounced in Havana a day before the start of discussions between U.S. and Cuban officials on the reopening of diplomatic relations.

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Canada defends sending ship to Cuba as vital to deterring Russia

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Canadian navy patrol boat to join Russian warships in Havana harbor

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Ukraine's new drone boats are armed with heat-seeking missiles to scare off Russian aircraft, commander says

  • Ukraine has modified its naval drones to carry R-73 heat-seeking missiles.
  • It's the latest innovation for the country's formidable fleet of uncrewed systems.
  • The upgraded naval drones will be able to target Russian aircraft patrolling the Black Sea. 

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Ukraine has armed its naval drones with heat-seeking missiles, giving the systems a major upgrade that will allow them to target Russian aircraft patrolling around the Black Sea.

An unspecified number of Magura V5 naval drones have been modified to carry R-73 short-range air-to-air missiles, the Ukrainian Main Directorate of Intelligence, an arm of the country's defense ministry, confirmed on Monday, marking another noteworthy innovation for Kyiv's fleet of uncrewed systems.

These innovative drones were first spotted in early May and have already been used during combat operations in the Black Sea, the HUR said in a statement shared to the Telegram messaging app, adding that the systems have become "a serious factor of fear and risk" for Russian aircraft.

"Such developments are effective — Russians are very afraid of them," the commander of "Group 13," a special HUR unit dedicated to operating the naval drones, said in a recent interview.

"When they see them, they are afraid to even fly up. And the uniqueness is that no one has such a thing," the commander said in the interview, which the HUR shared to Telegram. "This weaponry has already been installed, and it will produce results."

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The R-73, known by NATO as the AA-11 Archer, is a Soviet-era missile that has infrared homing technology and is typically carried by Sukhoi and MiG fighter jets.

Outfitting a naval drone with such weaponry is an unusual development, as the speedboat-like systems have historically been rigged with explosives and used to go after Russia's Black Sea Fleet, but the addition is likely to make these combat systems more dynamic during a mission.

Moscow, largely unable to stop Ukraine's unrelenting naval drone attacks, has turned to combat aircraft to patrol the waters and protect its warships. Now, the naval drones can use their R-73 missiles to defend themselves from Russian aerial attacks and provide cover for other uncrewed systems, thus reducing their vulnerability to the threats from above.

The R-73 missile upgrade represents another innovation for Ukraine's formidable naval drone program , which has given Kyiv a way to take on the Black Sea Fleet even though it doesn't have a proper navy of its own.

Ukraine has also outfitted its Sea Baby drones — another type of homemade uncrewed system — with Grad rockets to hit targets on land.

"Naval drones, primarily the Magura V5, have become such an asymmetric response that the enemy still cannot catch up to," Andrii Yusov, a representative of the HUR, told private Ukrainian television channel ICTV.

Last week, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Ukraine has sunk, destroyed, or damaged at least 24 Russian vessels in the Black Sea. Kyiv has relied on its fleet of naval drones, as well as long-range missiles, to inflict these losses.

Drone warfare has been one of the defining elements of the war in Ukraine. Beyond Kyiv's uncrewed success in the Black Sea, unmanned systems have been used in both surveillance and attack roles in the air and on the ground.

Watch: Ukraine's sea drones vs. Russia's Black Sea Fleet

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