Does This Explain Obama's Deal With Cuba?


TEL AVIV – While outspoken critics view President Obama’s announcement of renewed diplomatic ties with Havana as rewarding a dictatorship, the White House move may have more to do with checking Russia’s growing influence in Cuba, located just 90 miles from the U.S. coast.

On Wednesday, Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, including the goal of reopening a U.S. Embassy in Havana that had been closed for 50 years.
The U.S. will ease travel restrictions on Cuba and will make it easier for Americans doing business in the country.
The State Department has been ordered to review Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Russia responded to the U.S. move with public praise. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called Obama’s decision a “step in the right direction.”
However, the Russians must be concerned Obama is responding to Moscow’s recent muscle-flexing in Cuba.
In July, the London Guardian reported Russia had quietly struck a deal with Cuba to reopen the Lourdes military base, a Soviet-era spy base and military facility that was the USSR’s largest foreign base during the Cold War. The Soviets reportedly used the base to intercept American radio and telephone communications.
Some have seen the base’s reopening as largely symbolic, since spy methods now rely more on satellites and technology that can be deployed from anywhere.
The Guardian quoted Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer downplaying the reopening of the base as a “PR move” to show Washington the “middle finger.” Still, he allowed the base could be utilized for corporate espionage, explaining “because when individuals chatter they’re not always so attentive of secure lines.”
Robert Jervis, professor of international politics at Columbia University, warned Russia could use the base to provide information to communist allies such as Venezuela and Bolivia.
There is no mistaking the base reopening combined with other recent Russian moves toward Cuba pose a challenge to the U.S.
It may in part help explain why, as part of the new rapprochement, Obama is eager to open a U.S. embassy on Cuban soil. The facility will clearly help establish a U.S. presence to check Russia in the country.
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In August, Putin paid a visit to Cuba, where the Russian strongman reportedly forgave 90 percent of Cuba’s unpaid Soviet-era debts, which totaled $32 billion.
He also reportedly signed industry, energy and trade deals with Cuba that includes a search for oil in Cuban waters.
Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University, saw Putin’s trip to Cuba as “a reply to Obama’s notion that Russia could be isolated, by saying, ‘Hey, here we are back 90 miles off your shore with a big greeting, and we’re going back into economic business here.’”
According to media reports, Putin utilized a Latin American tour in August to sign numerous military agreements to place Russian global positioning stations in not only Cuba but also Argentina and Brazil.
In February 2013, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev reportedly signed a deal with Cuba to lease eight the country Russian jets.
In a move undoubtedly watched closely by the Pentagon, in April 2013 Russian Military Chief of Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov reportedly toured key Cuban military and intelligence site.
Four months later, a spokesman for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet told reporters the fleet’s flagship, the Russian guided-missile warship Moskva, would tour the coast of Cuba and Central and South American ports.
In February, it was reported another Russian warship, the Viktor Leonov CCB-175, had docked in Cuba.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.

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