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Cuba Insight

A publication of the Cuban Studies Institute

by Alvaro Alva*  

In Russia, for several years, generals and legislators have been advocating the opening of a military base in Cuba. The first mention of returning to a permanent Russian base in Cuba occurred in February 2014.  It was in the midst of the political crisis in Ukraine and the plans of a Russian invasion of Crimea. The Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, spoke of the need to expand Russia’s military presence outside its borders, and cited Cuba, Vietnam, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

In May 2014, an agreement known as the Cooperation and Joint Work between the Security Council of the Russian Federation and the National Defense Council of Cuba was signed. Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin, son of Cuba’s ruler general Raul Castro was a signee.    

In May 2015, the now head of Russian espionage, Sergei Naryshkin, visited Cuba and invited the Cuban government to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This military group unites the former Soviet republics in the country, military and political arena. Narishkin emphasized that Cuba was one of the most reliable allies of the Kremlin in the Americas.

At the beginning of November 2017, in the Upper Chamber of the Russian parliament the "need" to have a military presence in Latin America and Asia was discussed. Russian Senators from the Defense Committee, including its president, and the International Relations Committee, said that "the deployment of a Russian military base in Cuba would help the security interests" of Russia and Cuba.

The Russian logic comes from what in Moscow is considered an increase in "American aggression" worldwide and an intensification in sanctions against Russian companies and officials. A military presence in Cuba "would be in the interest of the security” of Russia.

According to the Russian legislators, the Kremlin military presence in Cuba until 2001, helped to stop the expansion of the United States in areas of Russian strategic interests. An active policy of NATO member countries that border the largest of the Russian republics is considered a "frank intervention in the internal affairs of the historical partners of Russia", and should accelerate "our return to Latin America. "

All those who advocate for the military bases, agree that they must coordinate the installations with Havana. Other legislators asked not to hasten the plans.  They consider that the restoration of a Russian base in Cuba could exacerbate the confrontation between Moscow and Washington and turn the event into a second Caribbean Crisis, as the Missile Crisis of 1962 is referred to in Russia.

Today Russia has two permanent military bases in Syria, one naval in Tartus, and another air base in Latakia. With Vietnam they signed an agreement for the joint use of supply units in Cam Ranh.  Aircrafts Il-78 and Tu-95MC use Vietnamese air bases when patrolling the area.

The Russians may opt for periodic visits of Russian naval vessels to Cuba.  The distinction may be the availability of Cuba to accommodate the Russian Navy, without the need to establish a Russian base.  It could be explained as Cuban bases for the Russians.

If a Russian base reopens in Cuba, the island would again be a critical part of Moscow's foreign policy; a piece to put pressure on Washington or to trade it for a U.S. base in Europe. Some might call it a spectacular show of the Kremlin’s muscle and a reminder to the U.S. that the doors are never closed between Moscow and Havana.
*   Alvaro Alba is a Supervisory Managing Editor in Internet Division of OCB.  Alba is an author of the books "Twin Souls: A comparative analysis between Joseph V. Stalin and Fidel Castro” (2002) and "The pupil of the Kremlin" (2011) and” Russia: The Stalin Heritage” (2012), all published in Madrid, Spain.  Alvaro is a Senior Research Associate at the Cuban Studies Institute (CSI).