Russia Denies Reopening Cuban Spy Base as Ukrainian Conflict Escalates

Originally published on July 20, 2014, at

Responding to recent allegations, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly denied any intentions to reopen their signals intelligence (SIGINT) post in Cuba. While attending a BRICS summit in Brasilia on Thursday, Putin claimed, “Russia is capable of fulfilling the defense capacity tasks without this component.”

The Soviet-era spy facility in Lourdes, Cuba, began operation in 1967 after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis. Located 155 miles from the US coast, the covert base intercepted classified radio signals from ships, submarines, and American spacecraft. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union required up to 3,000 personnel to staff the building.

Russia closed the SIGINT post in 2001 after the US House passed H.R. 4118: the Russian-American Trust and Cooperation Act of 2000. The bill threatened to cease forgiving Russian debt to the US, unless the Russians permanently closed their intelligence facility at Lourdes. Russia has complied with shutting down the base until reports from the Russian newspaper Kommersant stated Moscow and Havana had reached a deal to reopen the spy facility during Putin’s visit to Cuba last week.

Cuban President Raul Castro has remained silent concerning the spy base on his soil. Neither confirming nor denying any plans to reopen the facility, Havana has accepted Moscow’s offer to write off 90% of their debt to Russia, totaling roughly $32 billion.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced plans to expand harsher sanctions against Russia for their failure to end the Ukrainian conflict. Obama told reporters, “We have to see concrete actions, and not just words that Russia in fact is committed to trying to end this conflict along the Russia-Ukraine border.”

Following the BRICS summit, Putin denounced the US for imposing the new sanctions against his country. Putin stated, “But as for sanctions, they usually have a boomerang effect, and without a doubt will force US-Russian relations into a corner. This is a serious blow to our relationship. And it undermines the long term security interests of the US State and its people.”

Earlier this year, the US and Europe imposed multiple sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and massing thousands of Russian troops along its eastern border with Ukraine. Bloody clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces have continued for months. Ukraine’s government in Kiev has accused Russia of illegally allowing weapons and military equipment to cross the border and into the hands of the separatists.

On Thursday, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border killing 298 people. Ukraine’s government claimed Russian aircraft shot the Boeing 777 out of the sky, but the US believes the plane was struck by a Buk/SA-11, surface-to-air missile. Although no one has taken credit for the attack, pro-Russia rebels have occupied the crash site allowing only partial access to investigators. On July 16, a Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down in Eastern Ukraine, and on July 14, a Ukrainian military transport plane was also shot down near the same vicinity.

“After what’s happened in Ukraine, with all these alliances the United States has developed, Russia is showing it’s joining the game and that it too can lean on allies and form alliances,” said Sergey Ermakov, head of the Regional Security Section at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.

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