Amid rising U.S.-Russia tension, Putin weighs reopening air base in Cuba

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Amid rising tensions between Moscow and Washington, the administration of Russian president Vladimir Putin is considering setting up an air base in Cuba, according to the Washington Post.

Russian officials have been hinting at an interest in bringing back a military base presence in Cuba, but aren’t saying outright of any concrete plans or what discussions, if any, they are having with officials of the island nation that sits a mere 90 miles from U.S. shores.

Citing Russian news reports, the Post said that Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov indicated that the military is “reviewing” the closing of an intelligence base in Cuba – as well as that of a naval base in Vietnam – in the early 2000s.

Cuba closed the base, according to published reports, because of financial problems associated with it, as well as U.S. pressure.

Russia is looking to expand its global presence, the Post reported, to compete, in a way, with the United States.

“As for our presence on faraway outposts, we are working on this,” Pankov said.

The Post said that Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, would not elaborate about restoring a presence in Cuba and Vietnam. All he would acknowledge, the Post said, was that Russia finds itself having to look for ways to address global developments.

Russia just ratified a treaty with Syria last week that enables it to have its first permanent air base in the Middle East.

Putin has repeatedly expressed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Soviets established the base in Cuba following the 1962 missile crisis, which involved Moscow’s desire to put nuclear weapons in Cuba.

That base, which was located about 150 miles from U.S. shores, offered the ability to the Soviets to intercept U.S. communications.

Some international affairs experts remain skeptical about a return of a Russian base to Cuba.

“I will believe this is a real possibility when I hear it from Cuba and Vietnam. A country needs to want this,” Olga Oliker, director of the Russian and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told the Miami Herald.

“Russia is looking to increase its global posture from a prestige point of view, to show that it is a world power, and, like the United States, it also has global bases,” said Oliker. “The question is what would Russia offer [Cuba and Vietnam] in exchange for the countries allowing these bases. I’m not sure how interested the Cubans are given the recent restoration of relations with the United States.”

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