During the Cold War, were Soviet naval vessels allowed to use the Panama canal?

I'm aware that no Soviet warships happened to use the canal during the Cold War. Was there a rule aganst them transiting the canal, or were they free to do so, even if none actually did?

For example, if any Soviet warships went between Atlantic and Pacific by going via a longer route, this would be evidence that they would have used the canal, but that they weren't allowed to.

  • 2
    -1 was by me, as the first page of Google search "panama canal cold war soviet" is full of answers for this question. Feb 13, 2013 at 18:42
  • @DarekWędrychowski, when I google those terms, I'm not seeing any actual answers to this question.
    – Joe
    Feb 13, 2013 at 20:14
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    4 out of 5 first results contain the answer in their Google description and provide nice details after clicking provided links. 3rd one is an article recommended by both choster and RI Swamp Yankee. But as I see more votes of people suggesting that this question shows research effort, I understand that asking Google first is not necessary at this website and will conform to that for the future. Feb 13, 2013 at 23:54
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    @DarekWędrychowski Please don't conform to that.
    – kubanczyk
    Feb 14, 2013 at 13:46
  • Shhh guys, if you wanted to game our area51 results you would ask any question you could think of.
    – Nathan
    Feb 15, 2013 at 10:39

2 Answers 2


The Panama Canal was closed to Soviet warships for the duration of the Cold War. On December 6, 2008, the destroyer *Admiral Chabanenko" became the first Russian or Soviet military vessel to transit the Canal since 1944.

Soviet-flagged civilian vessels seem to have been permitted, at least for a while. A Canberra Times article from 22 April 1948 reports that 23 Russian [sic] vessels had traversed the Canal in 1948.

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    Do you have any citation that the canal was closed to Soviet warships? The article you linked says that the transit had no political significance as the canal is "open to all the world's ships".
    – Joe
    Feb 13, 2013 at 20:16
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    The article also doesn't say anything at all about the reason their ships didn't traverse the canal. For all we know, it could be that the USA had no problem with it, but the Soviets didn't want to make their warships vulnerable by putting them essentially under USA control for a canal traversal.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 13, 2013 at 21:15
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    I recently read amazon.com/Path-Between-Seas-Creation-1870-1914/dp/0671244094/… , which IIRC said that USA policy was to let anyone through, to discourage the canal becoming a target for attack. However, the canal also has defenses (manned by Americans) just in case, which would have to make anybody not in good smell with the USA nervous about running their really valuable warships through it. So it could just be that the USSR felt it was off limits to their warships for strategic reasons.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 14, 2013 at 1:39
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    @choster "could have declined" is quite different from "was shut"...
    – jwenting
    Feb 14, 2013 at 7:32
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    @T.E.D. correct that destroying the locks is how you'd render the canal useless. But you do that via stand-off missiles, or covert KGB/Spetsnaz teams, not warships in the Canal.
    – RonJohn
    Oct 13, 2017 at 2:55

No, no Russian warships from 1944 until 2008 traveled through the Panama Canal. Here is a BBC web article on the topic.

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