Russia 'to reopen Lourdes spy base in Cuba'

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image captionDuring the Cold War it was said to be the biggest Soviet overseas listening post

Russia has made a deal with Cuba to reopen an electronic listening post on the Caribbean island that was used by the Soviets to spy on the US during the Cold War, Russian officials say.

The Lourdes base near Havana lies 250km (150 miles) from the US coast.

The agreement with Cuba came during a visit to the Communist-run island by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, the Kommersant newspaper says.

Mr Putin closed the base in 2001, citing concerns over its cost.

A Russian security source quoted by Reuters news agency confirmed the Kommersant report, saying "a framework agreement has been agreed".

Russia-US relations have plummeted over the Ukraine conflict and Russia's annexation of Crimea.

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image captionProximity to the US considerably boosted Soviet monitoring of American communications

During his visit to Cuba last Friday Mr Putin agreed to write off 90% of Cuba's $32bn (£19bn) Soviet-era debt, Kommersant reported.

The Lourdes base began operations in 1967 and provided intelligence for Soviet state security bodies. It also handled secret communications for the Soviet navy.

In Soviet times some 3,000 specialists worked there, then in the 1990s Russia reduced the staff by about half. Kommersant says staffing on that level would not be required now, because of improvements in technology.

When Russia shut the base in 2001 the annual cost - the rent paid to Cuba - was $200m.

Cuba was a Cold War hotspot. The crisis over Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962 almost escalated into nuclear war.

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