October 18, 2001

Analysis: Russia's Cuba spy dilemma

MOSCOW, Russia --Russia says closing its Cuban radar post will save more than
$200 million a year in rent. But defence experts say it is not money that led to the decision.

Just last year Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the radar station, telling its
workers how important it was.

"At that time, financial reasons did not make him say the station should be closed.
Now he's saying it. That's why I think it's more a financial cover for a purely
political decision," Ivan Safranchuk of the Center For Defense Information told

A Kremlin source told CNN that political considerations played a role in shutting the
Lourdes, Cuba, post -- used for almost 40 years to spy on America -- and the radar
station at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, another key Soviet-era ally.

Several experts told the Reuters news agency that the monetary figures were
notional because Cuba was paid for the base in barter -- mainly spare parts for its
dilapidated Soviet-era military machine and oil.

Instead, analysts say the decision signals Putin's readiness to ignore military hawks
and forge closer ties with Washington.

"It is the first real step toward a real partnership with the U.S.," said independent
military expert Alexander Golts. "If you wanted a symbol of the Cold War, it was

"I think it is a clear signal to the U.S. that Russia is changing its position, that we are
true allies. It is a very important signal which continues this shift of Mr. Putin
toward a clear partnership with the West," Golts told Reuters.

Added Pavel Felgenhauer, another independent defence expert: "This is a real change
in Russian strategic posture, one of the real significant ones after the withdrawal of
Russian troops from Europe.

"Putin is saying to the Russian military: Forget about the United States and get down
to the business of putting things in order in your own house," Felgenhauer told

"It's preposterous to spend a lot of money in eavesdropping on the United States
when you can't win a war in Chechnya," he said, referring to Russia's battle to
restore its rule in the rebel province.

Putin's decision came on the eve of the APEC summit in Shanghai and a meeting
with U.S. President George W. Bush, who hailed the move as "another indication
that the Cold War is over... President Putin understands that Russia and America are
no longer adversaries."

Putin is actively supporting the U.S.-led international coalition against terrorism,
letting U.S. aircraft use Russian air space for humanitarian flights to Afghanistan and
clearing the way for former Soviet republics in Central Asia to offer their air bases to
U.S. forces.

Vladimir Lukin, a senior lawmaker and former Russian ambassador to Washington,
told NTV television that Russia's decision to close the Cuba and Vietnam posts
should be reciprocated. Moscow is pushing for debt rescheduling and Western
support for its attempt to join the World Trade Organisation.

While the decision could win Putin points internationally, especially with the United
States, some observers predict he could run into domestic trouble for his decision.

Vadim Solovyov, managing editor of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta Military Review, told
Reuters: "I think the majority of the higher echelons of power do not support the
president" in his overtures to the West.

"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.

Russia's withdrawal from the Vietnam base also will curb the navy's aspirations to
play a strategic role in Asia.

Putin softened Wednesday's news by announcing more military funding. But
whether he can take with him his hawkish Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov -- a close
ally and fellow St. Petersburg native -- remains to be seen.

"Any further development in the partnership with the West moves us slowly to the
underlying contradictions between Mr. Putin and those he thought were his closest
allies," analyst Golts said.

Russia's decision has already met with anger from Cuba, which said Moscow did
not have its permission to close the Lourdes station. Havana said the closure would
pose a "grave risk" to Cuba's security and amounted to a "special present" to the
United States.

But Moscow dismissed the criticism, saying the move was made only after long
talks with Havana and that it shouldn't have come as a surprise to Cuba's leadership.

By contrast, Vietnam said Russia's withdrawal from Cam Ranh Bay was by mutual
agreement and that Hanoi would use the facility for its own "socio-economic
development objectives."

       -- CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.