Analysis:Cuba base closure signals Putin is courting West
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia's surprise departure from a Cold War base in
Cuba used for spying on the United States signals Russian President
Vladimir Putin's readiness to ignore military hawks and forge closer ties
with Washington, analysts said Wednesday.
Putin told his military chiefs Russia would close the Lourdes base on the
island after almost four decades as Moscow's "listening post" on America, whose
Florida coast is just 90 miles away.
He also announced Russia would withdraw from the gigantic Cam Ranh Bay
in Vietnam, another key Soviet-era ally, curbing the navy's aspirations to play a
strategic role in Asia.
"It is the first real step toward a real partnership with the U.S.," independent
military expert Alexander Golts said. "If you wanted a symbol of the Cold War, it
"I think it is a clear signal to the U.S. that Russia is changing its position,
are true allies. It is a very important signal which continues this shift of Mr. Putin
toward a clear partnership with the West."
The Russian leader has offered stalwart support to the "war on terrorism"
by President Bush in the wake of the attacks on the United States last month.
Putin has also backed U.S.-led air strikes against Afghanistan, accused
the alleged mastermind of those attacks -- Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden.
Putin has sent a number of clear signals to the West that he wants to end
traditional policy of studied truculence toward the United States.
In the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Putin told
Washington he had ordered Russia's air defenses not to go on alert -- the standard
Soviet procedure in reaction to important international events.
As well as offering U.S. aircraft Russian air space for humanitarian flights
those displaced by air strikes on Afghanistan, Putin cleared the way for former
Soviet republics in Central Asia to offer their air bases to U.S. forces.
In Brussels, Putin softened his stance on NATO expansion eastwards, saying
Russian hostility could be reviewed if NATO became geared more to political than
purely military issues.
Such a reaction would have been unimaginable even earlier this year, when
was still patching up ties with NATO that were damaged during the alliance's air
campaign against Moscow's ally Yugoslavia during the 1999 Kosovo crisis.
On coming to power on New Year's Eve, 1999, Putin said the economy was
restoring Russia's tarnished status as a great power. Powerful, efficient armed
forces were possible only if the economy modernized and shook off Soviet sloth.
But his apparent abandonment of Russia's traditional "Eurasianism" -- its
relationship with the West -- has powerful opponents who may yet try to thwart
"I think the majority of the higher echelons of power do not support the
in his overtures to the West, said Vadim Solovyov, managing editor of the
Nezavisimaya Gazeta Military Review.
"They would like a tougher line to achieve more concessions from the American
side on resolving problems of strategic national defense," a reference to U.S. missile
defense plans hitherto opposed by Moscow.
Interestingly, Putin sweetened the pill by announcing more cash for the
need to radically improve training and salaries, and to ensure military reforms
enabled Russia to confront emerging threats to its security.
Whether Putin can take with him his hawkish Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov,
close ally and fellow native of St. Petersburg, remains to be seen.
"Any further development in the partnership with the West ... moves us
the underlying contradictions between Mr. Putin and those he thought were his
closest allies," said Golts.
Copyright 2001 Reuters.