Latin America & Caribbean

Putin denies Russia plans to reopen spy base in Cuba

Lourdes base communications dishes - 2001 file pic Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption During the Cold War the Lourdes base was said to be the biggest Soviet overseas listening post

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied reports that he made a deal with Cuba to reopen an electronic listening post on the Caribbean island.

The Lourdes base near Havana was used by the Soviets to spy on the US during the Cold War.

Speaking at the Brics summit in Brazil, Mr Putin said Russia could "meet its defence needs without this component".

Russia's Kommersant newspaper had earlier reported that Russia and Cuba had agreed to reopen the spy facility.

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

The paper said the deal to make the base operational again had been reached during Mr Putin's visit to Cuba last week.

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

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Proximity to the US considerably boosted Soviet monitoring of American communications

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 said staffing on that level would not be required now, because of improvements in technology.

The base was converted into a university after the Russians left. It is now the University of Information Sciences (UCI).

Reopening Lourdes itself would always have been out of the question, says the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Havana.

Russia is planning to help build a new civilian airport next to the site of the old spy base.

When Russia shut the base in 2001 the annual cost - the rent paid to Cuba - was $200m (£115m).

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

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