Research: Commentary

Cuba Rejects Increased Russian-Cuban Military Cooperation

August 13, 2008 | Article

By Wayne Smith

The Russians clearly are unhappy about Washington’s intentions to build a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland and are hinting that they can retaliate in unpleasant ways. An unidentified Russian officer recently commented to the newspaper Izvestiya, for example, that “when they put their missile defence system in Poland, our strategic bombers will be landing in Cuba.”

Other Russian officials said that, in effect, they had no plans to establish bases in Cuba, but that their planes had the right to fly in and out of Cuba if the Cubans did not object. And Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, the president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, among others, spoke of restoring a military presence in Cuba. Were the Russians in fact thinking of retaliating for the American missile defense in the Czech Republic and Poland by flying strategic bombers from Cuban airfields? Or by increasing their military presence in some other way?

It was expected that the July 30-31 visit to Havana of a delegation led by Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of the Russian Federation Security Council, during which they held meetings with Cuban defense officials, among others, would indeed result in some expansion of Russian-Cuban military cooperation. But no, the delegation apparently returned to Russia without an agreement from the Cubans to expand military ties. Russian news agencies noted that there were not even any general phrases about ‘cooperation in the field of security.’ They also reported that a high ranking Cuban diplomat had indicated Cuba was not inclined to cooperate in the military field. Interestingly, he was reported to have said that “Cuban authorities are ready to cooperate with Russia in civil areas, but will hardly wish to restart military cooperation, especially after what happened to Lourdes.”

Lourdes was a large Soviet listening facility which monitored communications on the U.S. East Coast. It was closed by Moscow in 2001. The same Cuban diplomat reportedly complained that it had been closed without proper consultations. Top-ranking Cuban officials, he said, had been offended by the fact that the base had been closed without even taking into account the opinions of Cuban leaders.

This is indeed an interesting development. We of course do not know who the high-ranking Cuban diplomat is or how authoritative are his statements. The latter were made and reported over a week ago, however. That there has been no official “correction” suggests that they do indeed reflect the Cuban government’s position and that at least for now it is not inclined to expand military ties with Russia. Cuba has fully supported Russia’s position in the conflict with Georgia and in most other ways its relations with Moscow remain unchanged – and on the same wave length.

Wayne S. Smith is the former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (1979-82) and is now a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.

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