A top-ranking Russian military officer said Moscow was considering establishing a new military base in Cuba even as the Cold War-era allies were planning a high-level meeting in the coming days, Newsweek reported.
Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov, chairman of the Russian lower house of parliament’s defense committee and a former airborne commander, also became the latest Russian official to warn of consequences if the Trump administration quits the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, as the president has warned, in response to intelligence that Moscow has been in violation of the agreement for years.
If Washington does pull out of the agreement, U.S. military experts have said the Pentagon could field new intermediate-range missiles within months.
“In order to strengthen our military presence in Cuba, we need at least the consent of the Cuban government. After all, this question is more political than military, and today, it’s probably premature to talk about any specific measures in response to a possible U.S. withdrawal from INF,” Shamanov told the Interfax news agency.
“Now the active phase of assessing this scenario is underway and proposals will next be prepared with estimates,” he added.
Shamanov’s comments come as Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing to receive Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on the first stop of his debut world tour. He is scheduled to meet with Putin on Friday.
Putin would not exclude the possibility of reopening a military base in Cuba. Also on the agenda, reportedly, are discussions involving a $50 million loan to Cuba so the Caribbean nation can purchase weapons.
Díaz-Canel is also expected to visit the world’s four remaining Communist countries: China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos.
Analysis: A new permanent Russian military presence in Cuba would dramatically increase security risks to the United States, but also to Havana, which would once again be in the Pentagon’s crosshairs.
Discussions of a new Russian base come amid renewed tensions between the United States and Cuba. Toward the end of 2016, CIA agents posing as U.S. diplomats in the country may have been subjected to a new form of acoustic or microwave attack, many of whom suffered physical neurological symptoms (similar attacks reportedly targeted U.S. diplomatic officials in China as well).
What is the value to Moscow of having a permanent military presence (which will probably include port/naval access) in Cuba? Tactically and strategically speaking, it would give Russia a huge advantage in terms of any first- or second-strike capability during wartime (though any Russian bases in Cuba would probably be targeted by the United States first).
Also, a presence in Cuba gives Russia a boost when it comes to intelligence gathering, but only if Russia reinvests heavily in its former Lourdes intelligence facility.
Still, the suggestion that Russia may reopen military bases there isn’t a done deal. Skeptics abound. Firstly, doing so would not shift the balance of power in the region to Moscow.
Secondly, if Russia really is interested in improving ties with the Trump administration, putting a new base in Cuba won’t help.
Third, foreign bases cost money, and right now, Russia does not have an abundance of resources to put into foreign adventurism. While a military presence in a foreign country is like having a diplomatic presence on steroids — and Russia does seek to influence events in our hemisphere — it’s not clear Moscow is willing to take on the obligation, since this idea has been floated by various Russian officials off-and-on since about 2014.
The U.S. military presence at Guantanamo Bay is also something Moscow would have to consider.
If Russia seeks to reinsert itself in the Western hemisphere, it’s probably better to do so covertly. A very public, open-ended military commitment in Cuba would invite lots of U.S. attention that neither Moscow nor Havana would welcome.