Published On: Thu, Jul 17th, 2014

Is Russia starting a cold war again with the reopening of spy base in Cuba?

putin-raulFollowing President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Havana last week, Russia and Cuba have agreed to reopen the signals intelligence (SIGINT) base in Lourdes, Cuba, which was primarily used to spy on the US, Russian business daily Kommersant reported.

The base was set up in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis to monitor radio and telephone communications in the US, just 155 miles away. Moscow shut it down in 2001 because it had no longer had any perceived use at the time for such a facility 6,000 miles away and also as a result of American financial pressure.

In July 2000, the US House of Representatives passed the Russian-American Trust and Cooperation Act of 2000, which prohibited the rescheduling or forgiveness of any outstanding bilateral debt owed to the United States by Russia until Russia ceased all its operations at, removed all personnel from, and permanently closed the intelligence facility at Lourdes in Cuba.

The bill was never passed by the US Senate.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who sponsored the bill in the House, said in a statement on Wednesday, “If true, reports of a re-opening of the Lourdes spying facility in Cuba are yet another indication of Vladimir Putin’s desire to deepen ties with a state sponsor of terrorism like Cuba and poses a national security threat to the Homeland. The Lourdes spying facility was used to monitor and spy on the United States in order to direct Russia's base of intelligence against our country. Re-opening this espionage facility with the Castro regime, signing a nuclear agreement with Argentina, and committing to giving more military equipment to Nicaragua illustrates the nefarious intent of Putin's latest trip within the hemisphere. We must be vigilant and ensure we minimize the damage done from any activities that stem from the re-opening of the Lourdes spying facility.”

Once the Soviet Union's largest such facility outside of its territory, the base was manned by about 3,000 military and intelligence personnel who intercepted signals coming from and to its “potential enemy”, the United States, and provided communications for Russian surface ships and submarines in the West. Later, part of its infrastructure was given to Cuba’s University of Information Technologies.

According to Kommersant, Moscow began talks with Havana a few years ago with a view to reopening the facility, which increased significantly at the beginning of this year, when the Russian military had several meetings with their Cuban counterparts. After all remaining issues were resolved, arrangements to reopen the base were finalized during Putin’s visit to Havana last Friday.

Russia’s decision to return to Cuba is reportedly based on its increased financial capabilities, as well as a cooling of relations with the United States.

"Our relationship soured long before Ukraine,” said one of the officials familiar with the negotiations. “In fact, they do not communicate at all, except for some periods, which are rather the exception."

"Today, the reopening of Lourdes is more than justified,” Russian military expert, retired colonel Viktor Murakhovski said.

"Lourdes gave the Soviet Union eyes in the whole of the western hemisphere," former head of Russia's foreign intelligence service, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, told Kommersant. "For Russia, which is fighting for its lawful rights and place in the international community, it would be no less valuable than for the USSR."

When asked about the situation at the State Department daily press briefing on Wednesday, spokesperson Jen Psaki said there had been no formal announcement from the Russian or the Cuban governments, so she had very little to say.

“I would, naturally, have nothing to add on alleged Russian intelligence facilities. So if there’s more public statements made, perhaps we’ll have more to say,” Psaki said.

The Defense Department did not respond to a request for comment and neither did a number of senators.

By Aldrich Hermelijn for Curaçao Chronicle

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