The Russian spy ship Viktor Leonov docked in Havana Cuba on Feb 27 as the crisis in Ukraine continues to mushroom. Despite main stream media attributing the ships appearance as part of Russia’s newly stated policy of showing the flag worldwide, this ships arrival is likely due to events in Ukraine.
Viktor Leonov is a Vishnya Class electronic intelligence gathering vessel commonly referred to as an “AGI” which simply means auxiliary vessel, general intelligence. She is lightly armed with AK-630 ‘Gatling’ guns and SA-N-8 shoulder fired surface-to-air (SAM) missiles to defend against anti-ship missiles and aircraft.
The ships main weapon is its suite of electronic signals and communications intelligence (SIGINT) & (COMINT) gathering equipment manned by a crew of linguists, code breakers, and military and intelligence analysts as well as the technicians who maintain the equipment.
Viktor Leonov‘s mission is to monitor and collect encrypted wireless communications and data signals between government, diplomatic and military officials of the targeted nation. This mission can be preformed while cruising off a nation’s coast, or docked in nearby friendly port, such as Havana, Cuba.
Viktor Leonov appearing in Havana is more likely than not, on a mission to gather intelligence which the Kremlin cannot glean from reading White House and State Department press releases. The Kremlin will want to know Washington’s intentions as 150,000 Russian combat troops mass on the Ukraine border with Russian fighter jets overhead and Russian ‘surrogate’ forces secure key positions in Crimea.
Crimea is geographically almost an island with very narrow land and man made bridges to Russia in the east, and Ukraine to the north. It is an enclosed region difficult for large land forces to maneuver in. Soviet forces made Crimea a killing zone against the German invasion known as Operation Barbarossa in the Second World War, delaying the German advance into southern Russia and the Caucasus region.
Neither Pres. Putin, nor Russian field commanders would want to fight in Crimea for the above reasons as well as the large number of Russian military retirees and their families who live there and would be placed in the middle of a war zone. Additionally, the Russian Black Sea Fleet facilities at Sevastopol would be at risk for collateral damage.
As of this writing, ‘surrogate’ Russian forces are busily moving around Crimea securing key points of access such as roads and airports in addition to seizing the regional Parliament building where the Kiev-friendly government was voted out and an ethnic Russian Prime Minister voted in.
These forces are wearing Russian marked uniforms and equipped with Russian Army combat gear, though it is not entirely clear whether they are Russian military, or local armed militia groups. In either case, they are very likely acting on instructions from Moscow.
As these operations are carried out, the crew of Viktor Leonov will monitor any and all encrypted American communications it can decode to gauge the true reaction in Washington outside of communications between Washington and Moscow; as well as diplomatic communications from Washington to Kiev and Washington to European Union/NATO member nation capitals and between all affiliated intelligence agencies.
Pres. Putin’s main focus of concern will be how much Washington knows of Russian military movements and clandestine operations in Crimea, because whatever Washington knows; Putin must assume it will be relayed to Ukrainian leadership in Kiev via the European Union, NATO or affiliated intelligence channels.
A military response from the West is not on the Kremlin’s ‘radar’ of worries. Ukraine is not a member of NATO or the European Union. The short term goal of the Kremlin is to make sure that remains the case. The long term goal is still shrouded in Pres. Putin’s stone silence, but likely involves Russian annexation of Crimea and/or the ethnic Russian half of Ukraine east of the Dnieper River, if not the entire country.
Moscow has already reestablished effective control over Belarus, former Soviet Central Asia, parts of Georgia and has Moscow friendly governments in place in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Deposed Pres. Viktor Yanucovych was the Moscow friendly leader in Ukraine.