Russian newspaper Kommersant reported this week that, upon his visit to Havana, Russian President Vladimir Putin had reached an agreement with the Cuban government to reopen a spy base in Lourdes, a town south of Havana. The Russian President is denying that he struck such a deal, however.
Kommersant reported that the agreement would allow Russia to use a signals interception facility in Lourdes that dates back to the Soviet era, one which President Putin shut down in 2001 out of concerns that it was more expensive than it was necessary to Russian national security. At its time, it was the largest Russian listening post abroad, according to the Daily Mail.
The agreement to reopen the facility allegedly occurred only “in principle,” with no papers signed or official declaration that the facility would open, though it sparked quite a bit of speculation as to what Russia would want with such a facility, particularly as relations with the United States continue to deteriorate.
In addition to Kommersant‘s report, Reuters cited a Russian security source as confirming the deal last week, but only as a “framework agreement.”
The BBC reported Thursday, however, that Putin said publicly he has no interest in the facility. Speaking at the BRICS countries summit in Brazil, Putin argued that Russia could “meet its [defense] needs without this component.” The BRICS summit is composed of the nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa and is intended to foster relations between developing nations and programs to further such development individually.
While Putin denies the reestablishing of a spy base on the island, he announced in conjunction with the Cuban government last week a series of agreements to develop trade and foster “energy, industry, health, and disaster prevention.” Putin also discussed the possibility of working with Cuba’s dictator, President Raúl Castro, on creating a “grand transportation hub with possible modernization of the maritime airport of Mariel,” as well as the construction of a new airport. None of the ideas have been confirmed by either government to be set in motion yet, however.
Negotiations with Latin America have been more important than ever in the past year for Russia, as its relationship with the United States soured over both the Syrian Civil War and Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukrainian Crimea. Putin has made trade deals with Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, and Peru, as well as its long-standing close relationship with Cuba.