Cuba Upset By Closure Of Russian Spy Base
Decision Is Viewed As a 'Gift' to U.S.
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
MEXICO CITY, Oct. 18 -- The Cuban government has angrily denounced Russia's
decision to close a key electronic eavesdropping facility in Cuba, alleging
President Vladimir Putin made the move as a "special gift" to President Bush before their meeting this weekend at an economic summit in Shanghai.
"The agreement on the Lourdes Electronic Radar Station has not been
canceled, since Cuba has not given its approval," said a Cuban statement,
usually a vehicle for
expressing the views of President Fidel Castro. "Russia shall continue negotiating with the Cuban government, given that there are still important issues to resolve."
Putin's announcement Wednesday of the closings of the Cuban facility
and a major Pacific eavesdropping post at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam left
no room for
negotiation. Putin said the posts would be closed for budgetary reasons and to shift military resources to the international fight against terrorism.
Cuba's anger reflects its frustration at yet another economic blow from
Russia, which paid $200 million a year in rent for the Lourdes facility.
Cuba's economy has
been struggling since the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago.
The facility was built by the Soviet Union in 1964 as its main post
to eavesdrop on U.S. communications. It was also supposed to provide warning
U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba, following the Bay of Pigs in 1961. With the Soviet Union gone, the Cold War over and the United States unlikely to invade Cuba, the
base now serves largely as an irritant in the improving relations between Washington and Moscow.
Cuba's reaction to the closure illustrates Castro's discomfort with
relations between its old patron and its archenemy, which have been increasingly
especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Bush welcomed Putin's decision on Lourdes, which he called a "relic of the Cold War."
The Cuban statement noted that Russia has broadly supported the United
States in its offensive against terrorism, even as "many countries are
threatened" by a U.S.
stance that is "more aggressive and belligerent than ever."
"Under such circumstances," it said, "the withdrawal of the [Lourdes]
station would be a message and a concession to the government of the United
would constitute a grave threat to Cuba's security."
The statement added that Putin had changed his position since a visit
to Lourdes with Castro in December 2000, when the Russian leader expressed
support for the base, where 1,500 Russians still work.
The statement said Russia's "urgency" to close the base was a result
of Putin's wish to meet Bush at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum
in Shanghai this
weekend "bearing these two pieces of news." It said the closure of the facility in Vietnam was merely symbolic, but the closure of the Cuban base "would be a special
Russian Foreign Ministry officials today said Moscow would expect something
in return from the United States -- including the closure of eavesdropping
"It is obvious we will expect reciprocal measures," said a ministry
statement. "U.S. electronic surveillance centers set up during the Cold
War period are continuing
their activities among Russia's neighbors."
The ministry singled out a U.S.-built radar station at Vardoe, in northern
Norway, just 25 miles from Russian territory. Russia has said the station
could be used as
part of Bush's proposed missile defense program, which Moscow opposes.
Louis A. Perez, a Cuba specialist at the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, said Cuba's statement today reflects its resentment at
being left out of important
decisions in which it has a stake. He said key decisions in its history, including the U.S.-Soviet negotiations to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, have been made without
any consultation with Havana.
"Whether this is Putin's gift to the United States is not clear," Perez
said. "But it's another case where Cuba is pushed to the sidelines on a
decision that involves its