‘Don’t underestimate Putin,’ expert warns West as Russia deploys ‘formidable’ nuclear sub

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun27,2024

Vladimir Putin’s recent deployment of a ‘formidable’ nuclear submarine to Cuba earlier this month should serve as a warning to the West that it underestimates Russian naval power at its peril, a defence expert has said.

Iain Ballantyne was speaking after a Russian naval group including nuclear power sub RFS Kazan and RFS Admiral Gorshkov – reputedly armed with Zircon hypersonic missiles – visited the Caribbean island, located just 90 miles from Florida, earlier this month.

Mr Ballantyne considered the implication in an article for Warships IFR, a leading UK naval news magazine, which he also shared with Express.co.uk.

He wrote: “Although fears of a latter-day Cuban Missile Crisis when a Russian naval group visited Havana last month (June) were a wild exaggeration, the episode did see Cold War-style missile boat diplomacy and likely also naval espionage.”

The US had responded by “playing its trump card” by sending the Los Angeles Class boat USS Helena to its own Cuban base in Guantanamo Bay, Mr Ballantyne pointed out.

The USA and its allies “had monitored every move since Kazan and Gorshkov sailed from their bases in the Russian Arctic”, Mr Ballantyne said.

He explained: “After five days of enjoying a run ashore in Cuba the Russian naval group sailed from the island, which is just 90 miles from Florida, to conduct Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) exercises, with a video posted of Gorshkov working with a Helix helicopter in the Atlantic.

“The USA delivered a swift riposte, releasing photos of the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy and nuclear-powered-and-armed Trident ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) USS Tennessee sailing on the surface of the Norwegian Sea, not far from Russian shores.

“This was prime, blatant superpower signalling, for such submarines traditionally remain unseen (and hopefully undetected) for the duration of a deployment – the hidden undersea nuclear deterrent.”

Washington’s move was “one-upmanship” which had sent a “blunt signal” to Moscow, Mr Ballantyne suggested.

Nevertheless, he added: “That doesn’t mean the USA and Western allies can be complacent, for not many navies can demonstrate true global reach even as good as the Russians.

“Also, Kazan is a formidable submarine, one of the new generation Severodvinsk Class nuclear boats (as NATO knows them, or Yasen if you are the Russians).

“The Severodvinsk – lead boat in the class – was a development of the formidable Cold War era Akula attack boat (SSN). However, rather than being a further development, Kazan uses an all-new technology that aspires to raise the bar.”

A third and fourth in the Severodvinsk Class, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk, were now in service with Pacific Fleet and therefore able to “loiter off key US military bases in Asia-Pacific or even close to the west coast of the USA if needs be”, Mr Ballantyne warned.

He said: “Kazan was one of the most expensive submarines ever built for the Russian Navy, costing somewhere between two and three billion pounds.

“And she and her sisters are pretty fast, capable of reaching 40 knots dived and with a reported maximum diving depth of more than 1,500 feet.

“There are seven more Severodvinsk (Yasen) Class boats either in the water, under construction or planned for the Russian Navy.”

It was therefore clear Putin “remains intent on wielding his Navy as a powerful global political and military tool”, Mr Ballantyne stressed.

He added: “While they may not necessarily exceed the capabilities of the Royal Navy’s new Astute Class attack boats, the French fleet’s Suffren or US Navy’s Virginia equivalents, the new generation Severodvinsk boats threaten to give submarine operating nations of the West a run for their money.

“The real test of worth for Putin’s 21st Century ‘golden fish’ will, though, reside in the cutting edge sonars and weapons they are fitted with.

“Assessing whether or not that is the case has been the purpose of NATO naval and air units over the past few weeks.

“No doubt the Russians will have repaid the compliment via their own lurking submarines, ships and aircraft. Welcome to the new Cold War chess game. Same as the old one.”

• Iain Ballantyne is the Editor of Warships IFR, a leading UK naval news magazine. Find out more here. He is also the author of ‘Hunter Killers’ (Orion), about the Royal Navy’s submarines and submariners in the last Cold War, and The Deadly Trade (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), a history of submarine warfare from Ancient times to today.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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