A day after multiple news sources reported that Russia would be reopening a long-shuddered, Cold War-era electronic surveillance base in Cuba that was used to spy on the United States, President Vladimir Putin denied that his country and the government of Cuban leader Raúl Castro had agreed on the deal.
Speaking to Russian state media on Thursday while wrapping-up the end of a six-day Latin American visit, Putin said there are no plans to resume operations at the Lourdes Signals Intelligence facility, located south of the Cuban capital of Havana.
“Russia is capable of fulfilling the defense capacity tasks without [Lourdes],” he said while in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia.
When news of the facility purportedly reopening broke yesterday many U.S. lawmakers were up in arms about a Russian spy base being put back in an area that is considered by many to be America’s backyard.
The intelligence base would show "the Castro regime has only malevolent intentions toward the United States." Cuban-American Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart told The Voice of America.
Diaz-Balart added that the base was in close proximity to major U.S. military installations in Florida like the Tampa-based Central Command.
"By inviting one of America's adversaries to a spy facility only 90 miles from our shores, the Castro [government] is actively working to harm key U.S. national security interests," he added.
Putin, who was recently in Cuba when Russia forgave 90 percent of Cuba's Soviet-era debt that totaled more than $35 billion, downplayed the incident and when questioned instead focused on Russian-Cuban relations.
“We have very good relations and a very good historical foundation,” he said. “The country has achieved really good results in the social sphere, in education and medicine. Generally, we have joint projects, and we have plans.”
Built in 1962 during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Lourdes SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) facility was the largest of its kind operated by Russian foreign intelligence outside of Russia. The base was used to intercept U.S. transmissions, including those between NASA facilities in Florida and American spacecraft.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, operations at the base were scaled back but it continued operating up until 2001. Putin shut it down amid soaring costs and growing pressure from the U.S. following the Russian-American Trust and Cooperation Act.