MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Cuba’s Raul Castro have agreed on the re-activation of a former Soviet electronic surveillance station on the Caribbean island, Moscow daily Kommersant said on Wednesday.
Built in 1964 to spy on the U.S. government, the facility southwest of Havana was closed 13 years ago, when the then-cash-strapped Russian government decided it could no longer afford the annual lease payment of $200 million.
“Our relations (with the United States) was deteriorated a lot well before the Ukraine (crisis). In reality, they have never improved, except a few brief periods that have been the exception to the rule,” a senior Russian official told Kommersant on condition of anonymity.
The Lourdes complex was expanded and modernized following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Cold War-era listening post can be even more useful to Russia now than it was to the Soviet regime, Kommersant said, noting that Moscow no longer has any intelligence-gathering satellites.
Soviet leaders used the Lourdes facility to monitor Washington’s preparations for the 1991 Gulf War, according to revelations from a KGB defector.
Putin, whose 2000 journey to Havana opened a “second phase” in bilateral ties, chose Russia’s oldest ally in Latin America as the first stop on a regional tour that began last week.
The Russian president met last Friday with Raul Castro and his 87-year-old brother Fidel, the leader of the 1959 Cuban Revolution who stepped down in 2006 after being stricken with a serious illness.
Putin arrived in Havana a week after Russia’s parliament voted to forgive 90 percent of the $31.7 billion in outstanding debt Cuba had with the former Soviet Union.
Castro and Putin also presided over the signing of 10 agreements, including accords on oil exploration signed by Russian state oil company Rosneft and Cuban counterpart Cupet.