Cuba Says Russian Base is A Key Defense against US Aggression

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

( - Russia's decision to close its spy station near Havana is a concession to the United States and a grave threat to Cuba's security, said the Cuban government in an official statement on the matter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced earlier this week that Russia's Lourdes spy base near Havana would be closed down for economic reasons. The move will save Russia about $200 million a year, according to Putin. He also announced that Russia would close its Cam Ranh Bay base in Vietnam.

In its Thursday night broadcast, Radio Havana said Putin should not have lumped the two base closings together because the two bases "differ greatly in their origins, functions and importance."

When the communists won the Vietnam War, the Russians gained a warm-water port for their navy at Cam Ranh Bay, which was built and maintained by the United States until the communists came to power in 1975.

In Thursday night's radio broadcast, the Castro government said, "Vietnam faces no danger of military aggression from the United States. It (Cam Ranh) is of barely any use for a country like Russia, which has had practically no surface vessel fleet since the USSR's demise."

But the Lourdes base in Cuba is a different matter, the Castro government says. It believes the United States is a direct threat to Cuba, making the Russian base a necessary form of protection against an anticipated U.S. invasion.

"Negotiations regarding the Lourdes Electronic Radar Station have yet to be concluded," Radio Havana said. "Withdrawal of the station would be a message and a concession to the U.S. government that would constitute a grave threat to Cuba's security," it added.

The Castro government is also irritated that the "USSR did not pay a cent for the services it received from Cuba due to close cooperation between the two countries. Despite flagrant violations of agreements, economic losses and risks faced by Cuba, Havana allowed the facility to stay with no charge whatsoever."

During a visit to Cuba last December, Putin did promise Castro that Russia would modernize Lourdes. The base was built in 1964 after the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is about 13 miles south of Havana.

But now Putin says the base is too expensive to maintain, given the state of the Russian economy. The Kremlin press service would only say that he reached the decision after long discussions with defense officials.

Putin stressed that the decision did not mean its relations with Cuba, a key Cold War ally, were being scaled down.

Closing Lourdes would save at least $200 million a year in rent and salaries, he said.

The Castro government also criticized the United States for pressuring Russia to close Lourdes while at the same time the United States maintains the Guantanamo base in Cuba. The U.S. has been operating Guantanamo since 1903.

President Bush applauded Putin's action.

"This decision is another indication that the Cold War is over. President Putin understands that Russia and America are no longer adversaries; we do not judge our successes by how much it complicates life for the other country," Bush said.

"Instead, both nations are taking down relics of the Cold War and building a new, cooperative and transparent relationship for the 21st century," the president said in Sacramento, California.