MOSCOW – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is calling for Russia to restore its influential position in former Cold War ally Cuba, Russian news reports said Monday.
The statement comes amid persistent speculation about whether Russia is seeking a military presence in the country just 90 miles from the United States in response to U.S. plans to place missile-defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic.
"We should restore our position in Cuba and other countries," Putin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Putin spoke Monday while hearing a report on a recent Russian delegation's trip to Cuba. Vice Premier Igor Sechin and others met with the Cuban leadership and discussed an array of cooperation projects.
"We agreed on the priority for the direction of cooperation -- energy, mining, agriculture transport, health care and communications," Sechin said, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency.
Military issues were not mentioned in the reports. But separately RIA-Novosti quoted an influential analyst and former top defense official as saying Russia could make a military return to Cuba.
"It is not a secret that the West is creating a 'buffer zone' around Russia, involving countries in central Europe, the Caucasus, the Baltic states and Ukraine," the agency quoted Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, as saying. "In response, we may expand our military presence abroad, including in Cuba."
Russia opposes U.S. plans to put missile-defense elements in eastern Europe, saying the facilities are aimed at undermining Russia's missile potential. Russia has threatened an unspecified "military technical" response if the plans go through.
Last month, the Defense Ministry denied a major Russian newspaper's report that the country was considering placing nuclear-capable bombers in Cuba -- a move that would have echoed the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Soviet nuclear missiles stationed in Cuba during the height of the Cold War pushed the world to the brink of nuclear conflict on Oct. 22, 1962, after U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced their presence to the world.
After a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev removed the missiles.