Cuba will always be Russia’s loyal ally in Latin America
by Olivia Kroth
In difficult times, Russia has always stood on Cuba’s side and vice versa. This friendship dates back to Soviet times, when the Soviet Union helped Cubans to establish a Communist government on the island after the Cuban Revolution, in 1969. Russia is represented with an embassy in Havana and a consulate-general in Santiago de Cuba. Cuba has an embassy in Moscow and an honorary consulate in Saint Petersburg. The Cuban brothers Fidel and Raul Castro are faithful friends of Russia. They strengthened Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation, based on the principles of solidarity and trust. This long-time friendship between both countries has reached a new level of intensity, in 2016.
Fidel Castro’s first visit to the USSR dates back to the 27th of April 1963. His flight from Havana to Murmansk became the longest non-stop flight of that time. The dates and routes were kept in secrecy. According to the translator all windows were curtained and nobody who accompanied Fidel Castro could know where they were flying. His journey through the Soviet Union lasted for forty days. The leader of the Cuban Revolution visited a lot of cities and numerous factories, secret military bases as well as a nuclear submarine. He walked through Moscow without security guards, talked to the authorities and ordinary people. Fidel Castro was the first foreigner to step on the podium of the mausoleum. He received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union (ENGLISH RUSSIA, 29.04.2013).
Fidel Castro in the Soviet Union:
When Fidel Castro turned 90, on the 13th of August 2016, President Vladimir Putin sent the Cuban leader a birthday message: “Please accept my warmest wishes on your birthday. You enjoy deep respect in Russia as an outstanding statesman who devoted his entire life to serving the people of Cuba. It is hard to overestimate your personal contribution to the development of friendship and cooperation between our countries. I am confident that these relations will continue to develop fruitfully in the future, contributing to regional stability and security. I wish you good health, longevity, vitality and prosperity.”
Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin:
On the 7th of May 2015, Raul Castro participated in the Russian celebration of Victory Day. The Cuban leader thanked President Vladimir Putin for the invitation to visit Moscow as it marked the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany. “I could not have missed this event,” he said, noting that Cuba also marked the date with remembrance events. Speaking with the Russian President, Raul Castro referred to him as “dear friend Putin” (TASS, 07.05.2015). He began his visit by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin walls. After talks with President Vladimir Putin, Raul Castro also met the head of Russia’s powerful National Security Council Nikolai Patrushev for talks on regional and international affairs. In April 2016, Raul Castro was reelected as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, reassuring Cuba’s friendly politics towards Russia.
Raul Castro and Vladimir Putin:
Today, the Cuban-Russian alliance is reaching a new level. Russia has offered Cuba 55 bilateral cooperation projects, to be carried out between 2016 and 2020. The establishment of the new economic agenda includes energy projects, railway infrastructure, information technology and aircraft industries. “The Russian investment company Sinara Group will export locomotives to Cuba, begining in 2017. The transport machine-building company, Transmashholding, will export passenger railcars, the energy corporation Inter RAO plans to partake in constructing the Maximo Gomez and East Havana thermal power plants’ power units and also to upgrade the operating power units of Cuban thermal power plants. RusHydro, the hydroelectricity company, is already participating in a tender for the construction of 16 small hydroelectric power stations. The Ivekta company plans to export to Cuba roadbuilding equipment and various vehicles, Rosinformexport has prepared a project on the creation of e-government in Cuba while Uralkhimmash is ready to build a park for the storage of liquefied hydrocarbon gases” (TASS, 27.04.2016).
Russian Embassy in Havana:
Military and intelligence cooperation has always played a predominant role in Russian-Cuban relations. During the Soviet era, the Lourdes SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) facility, located 30 kilometres south of Havana, was a large facility operated by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). It was constructed in 1962 and commissioned in 1967. The SIGINT facility occupied 73 square kilometres. At the height of the Cold War, the facility was staffed with 1.500 KGB, GRU and Cuban DGI intelligence officers, engineers and technicians. The centre played a key role in obtaining intelligence, with its equipment repeatedly modernized. The Lourdes facility intercepted data from US communications satellites, ground-based telecommunications cables as well as reports from the the US Mission Control Centre of NASA in the nearby US state of Florida. In Lourdes Cuban and Russian intelligence personnel jointly listened to telephone conversations in the USA. In the post-Soviet era after 1991, the Lourdes facility was used for industrial espionage. In 2002, it was closed and the buildings were reconstructed for the Cuban University of Information Science.
Lourdes SIGINT facility in Cuba:
Since NATO is approaching Russian borders, it might make sense for the Russian Federation to reopen its base in Lourdes on the island of Cuba. In fact, the Cold War never ended but reached a new level in the new millenium. In October 2016, Russia’s Defence Ministry was reported to consider the option of returning to military bases in the countries, where they were in Soviet times, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told the State Duma legislators. “We are working on this,” he said in response to a question whether the military authority planned to return to the base in Cuba. The State Duma discussed the issue of restoring Russian military bases in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa (TASS, 07.10.2016).
Cuban leader Raul Castro with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu:
Reopening the Lourdes base in Cuba will allow the Russian Federation to quickly build and sustain sufficient combat power to influence events in the western hemisphere. So this base may be considered as a form of foreign direct investment. It also matters as a mechanism to build strong bilateral ties. Russian-Cuban cultural, economic, political and military ties will benefit both parties. Certainly the Russian Ministry of Defence is preparing a careful map study and an objective calculation of political and economic value. In the near future, Cuba might not only welcome Russian tourists on its beautiful beaches, but also Russian intelligence and military personnel in Lourdes, south of Havana. NATO in Eastern Europe, Russians in Cuba – this countermeasure will keep the global scales in balance for a proper equilibrum of forces.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow.