December 29, 2001

Russia begins Cuba base pullout

                 MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Russia began its farewells to its former
                 communist ally Cuba as it prepared on Saturday to close a big spy center,
                 ending four decades of Russian military presence on the Caribbean island.

                 As Russian and Cuban officials held farewell ceremonies near Havana, Russian
                 military officials were quoted as saying work to dismantle the Lourdes electronic
                 spying center in Cuba would start on January 15.

                 Interfax news agency quoted the unnamed Russian defense ministry officials as
                 saying three An-124 planes would be used to transport the center back to Russia.

                 President Vladimir Putin's decision to close the costly eavesdropping center near
                 Havana, from which Moscow listened in to U.S. secrets through the Cold War, has
                 met resistance from veteran Cuban leader Fidel Castro but has won applause from
                 U.S. President George W. Bush.

                 A final Russian military pullout from Cuba will mark the end of a 40-year chapter in
                 the Cold War in which Moscow sent troops and equipment across the world in the
                 1960s to the doorstep of the United States to shore up its new young communist

                 The Russian foreign ministry separately announced on Saturday that official
                 ceremonies had been held in Lourdes to mark the closure of the base.

                 It quoted the Russian ambassador to Cuba, A. Dmitriyev, as saying Russia
                 remained committed to developing relations with Cuba in the future including
                 military-political cooperation.

                    Copyright 2001 Reuters.