Russian spy ship in Havana on eve of US-Cuba talks

The Russian intelligence warship Viktor Leonov CCB-175 docked at the port of Havana, on Tuesday,  the eve of historic US-Cuba talks aimed at normalising diplomatic relations. -- PHOTO: AFP 
The Russian intelligence warship Viktor Leonov CCB-175 docked at the port of Havana, on Tuesday,  the eve of historic US-Cuba talks aimed at normalising diplomatic relations. -- PHOTO: AFP 

HAVANA (AFP) - A Russian intelligence warship docked in Havana on Tuesday, a day before the start of historic US-Cuba talks aimed at normalising diplomatic relations.

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.

US 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 defence official said.

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 highest-level US delegation to visit Havana since 1980 arrives on Wednesday for two days of talks aimed at normalising diplomatic and immigration relations between the former Cold War foes.

The former Soviet Union was Cuba's main patron during the Cold War.