The former Soviet-era listening station in 2001 in Lourdes some 18 miles outside of Havana, Cuba
By Caribbean News Now contributor
BRASILIA, Brazil -- According to Russia’s state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS, President Vladimir Putin has denied that Russia plans to reopen its signals intelligence (SIGINT) base in Lourdes, Cuba.
Speaking at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in Brasilia, Putin noted that “Russia is capable of fulfilling its defence capacity tasks without this component (Lourdes)”.
Earlier this week, Russian business daily Kommersant reported that, during Putin’s visit to Havana last Friday, Russia and Cuba agreed to reopen the base in Lourdes, which was primarily used to spy on US communications and missile launches during the Cold War and was closed in 2001, partly as a result of US financial pressure following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
According to Kommersant, Moscow’s interest in reopening the facility increased significantly at the beginning of this year during Russia’s attempted expansion into the Ukraine, when the Russian military had several meetings with their Cuban counterparts. After all remaining issues were resolved, arrangements to reopen the base were reportedly finalized during Putin’s visit to Havana last week.
The reported agreement to reopen the spy base in Cuba and Russia’s move into the Crimea earlier this year has served to draw attention to remarks made in 2012 by then US presidential candidate Mitt Romney that “without question Russia is our number one geopolitical foe”.
At the time, Romney’s comments were ridiculed by President Barack Obama, who said during a campaign debate, "Gov. Romney, I'm glad that you recognize that al-Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaida. You said Russia ... the 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years."
In the light of recent events, Romney’s position is now looking prescient compared to Obama’s apparently shortsighted view.
While there is still some uncertainty as to whether Russia actually has any real intention of reopening its spy base just 155 miles from the US, the fact remains that earlier this year a number of foreign organisations that were using the old Soviet facility in Cuba for peaceful research purposes were told they would no longer be permitted to use it.
On the other hand, given that, with today’s technology compared to that of the Cold War era, it hardly seems necessary to be geographically proximate to the source of electronic communications, the move by the Russians may be more of a public relations “poke in the eye” to the United States, possibly in response to the recently extended economic sanctions by the US and EU in relation to Russian activities in the Ukraine.
According to a US intelligence source, the denial by Putin may be an attempt to dial back the importance of the issue so that it does not form part of the negotiating equation when and if the Russians have to come to the table over the Ukraine and associated economic sanctions.
In the meantime, the member countries of regional blocs such as CELAC and ALBA, which are generally opposed to US hegemony in the Americas, are likely to welcome the continued show of Russian political and economic involvement in the Western Hemisphere.