December 20, 2000

Russia Returns to 'Freedom Island'

Col. Stanislav Lunev. Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2000

Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Cuba, where he said on Dec. 15 that Moscow would like to use the Communist regime in Havana as a stepping-stone to a wider and more active role in Latin America and the Caribbean.

With his Cuban counterpart, Fidel Castro, Putin agreed to breathe new life into Russia’s relationship with Havana, once the Soviet Union’s closest friend and ally. During this visit Russian and Cuban officials discussed many questions about improving the ties between the two countries, especially in the political, military and economic areas.

Before leaving Havana, Putin said that Cuba and Russia had made no agreements aimed against "third countries," but actually his visit to "Freedom Island" was another new challenge to Washington.

After several meetings with Castro, Putin joined the Cuban dictator in condemning the U.S. trade embargo against the communist-ruled Caribbean island. Putin and Castro signed a joint declaration at Havana’s Revolution Palace that also called for a multipolar world to counter U.S. influence and lamented the perils of economic globalization for poor nations.

As the document said, Moscow and Havana "have repeated their condemnation of the continued trade, economic and financial blockade of Cuba by the U.S., as well as any other extraterritorial acts linked to the blockade."

In a reference to NATO’s military involvement in the Kosovo conflict last year, which Russia and Cuba together disapproved of, the two leaders also underlined the "fruitlessness" of the "humanitarian intervention."

As the Russian press reported, during this visit Russian and Cuban officials signed dozens of documents for future cooperation in economic and military areas. In Putin’s words, an immediate task for Russian and Cuban experts would be a decision on the fate of thousands of unfinished projects left over from the Soviet era, all of which need an injection of cash to get them working again.

"Our mutual trade has reached $930 million in recent years, which is not bad for both Russia and Cuba," Putin said.

These projects include a nickel ore processing factory at Las Camariocas and modernization of the Cienfuegos and Santiago oil refineries. Russia also recently had to invest around $30 million in preservation work at the Juragua nuclear plant, which could be a permanent radioactive danger to many American states.

Nuclear experts believe that from the drawing board to the final construction the Juragua reactors are a case study in how NOT to build a nuclear power plant. But Moscow, whose leaders some years ago swore never to build the same reactors in their own country, is still insisting on restoring the Juragua construction, essentially to have some kind of a bargaining chip in the form of a perceived permanent safety hazard near the Florida Straits that can be traded away for new U.S. credits, loans and other benefits.

At the same time, Russian and Cuban officials apparently failed to resolve the bilateral problem of Havana’s debt to the former Soviet Union, inherited by Russia, which has been previously estimated by Moscow at $20 billion.

In Putin’s words, "There are still some problems remaining, which have accumulated in the last 10 years, and they demand especially close attention and solution."

Russian and Cuban officials had secret discussions about military cooperation between the two countries. According to the Russian press, Moscow will continue supplying arms to Havana, mostly in exchange for an extension of the lease for Russia’s giant electronic spy station in Lourdes, and other military and intelligence facilities.

On Dec. 14, Putin and Fidel Castro visited the Russian Military Intelligence-operated Lourdes spy center outside the Cuban capital and laid a wreath at the monument to the "Soviet Internationalist Warriors." As Putin put it, Russia and Cuba are to keep the Lourdes station going.

"It functions in strict accordance with the international norms and rules currently in force," Putin said. "Russia and Cuba are in favor of continuing its existence, but what will happen later? Let’s wait and see."

It is very difficult to agree with these words because the GRU (Russian Military Intelligence Agency) Lourdes spy center is operating from Cuban territory in violation of international regulations.

As reported, the Lourdes center is not only spying on American nuclear missile submarines in the Atlantic Ocean, but also illegally registering and penetrating U.S. governmental, military, economic and commercial communications in the eastern half of the U.S. In the words of top-level Russian military officials, the Lourdes center is "a diamond in the system of Russian National Security."

There is no doubt that Putin’s visit to Cuba is a logical continuation of his foreign policy, which is aimed at the establishment or restoration of good and friendly relations with regimes and countries harboring anti-American sentiments. Before visiting Cuba, for example, Putin became the first Russian or Soviet leader to visit North Korea, has hosted Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, and has pledged to visit Libya.

According to the Russian ambassador in Cuba, Moscow still regards Havana as "one of its most important allies."

In this connection, Putin’s visit to the "Freedom Island" could be interpreted, at the very minimum, as part of Moscow’s bid to rebuild a global role for itself, particularly in the Third World and especially in Latin America.

The Clinton administration continues to promote Putin as America’s friend when this "friend" is doing everything to challenge the U.S. and its security interests.

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