CUBA

Putin denies deal for reopening Cuba base

 

jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

Russian President Vladimir Putin is denying reports that his government had reached an agreement to reopen the Lourdes electronic eavesdropping base in Cuba, which once monitored a broad range of U.S. communications.

“We closed this center in agreement with our Cuban friends. We do not intend to renew its activities,” Putin declared in a statement published on a Kremlin Web page.

The Moscow newspaper Kommersant Tuesday quoted unidentified sources as saying that Russia had agreed to reopen the Lourdes base near Havana, unleashing concerns about U.S. relations with both Havana and Moscow.

Other Russian and foreign news media later reported they had confirmed the Kommersant report with their own sources on Wednesday, and several Russian defense analysts commented on the report as if they believed it were true.

Putin was facing sensitive diplomatic tasks when the report was published in a Brazil meeting with leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – known as the BRICS bloc – and preparing to meet the heads of state of the UNASUR bloc, made up of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay and Venezuela.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama also unveiled new and tougher sanctions on Russian banks and defense and energy firms in retaliation for its occupation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine.

Lourdes was Moscow’s largest intelligence facility abroad until its closure in 2002, with as many as 1,500 KGB and GRU military intelligence officers manning an array of antennas and computers in the sprawling base near Havana.

Putin shuttered the Cuba base and a naval facility in Vietnam to clear the way for obtaining U.S. loans and save the $200 million a year that Moscow had paid to Havana for rent since 1992. The University of Computer Sciences now sits on the grounds.

Several U.S. analysts and lawmakers cautioned Wednesday that if Russia really reopens Lourdes, that would put a damper on the widespread speculation that Obama will launch a strong effort to improve relations with Cuba after the November elections.

“By inviting one of America's adversaries to a spy facility only 90 miles from our shores, the Castro regime is actively working to harm key U.S. national security interests,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said in a statement late Wednesday.

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