Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Russia considers military bases in Vietnam and Cuba

Russia is considering plans to restore military bases in Vietnam and Cuba that had served as pivots of Soviet global military power during the Cold War, Russian news agencies quoted Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov as saying on Friday.

"We are dealing with this issue," the agencies quoted Pankov as saying in Russia's parliament.

Russia lowered its flag at the Lourdes signals intelligence base in Cuba and the deep water Cam Rahn naval base in Vietnam in the early 2000s as part of a drawing down of Russia's military presence around the world after the demise of the Soviet Union.

But since then, Moscow's foreign policy has become more assertive, leading to tensions with the United States and its allies over, among other issues, the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and the presence of NATO troops in eastern Europe.

Pankov said the Defence Ministry was currently "rethinking" past decisions on closure of the bases, but declined to go into detail. Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Cuban officials were not available.

The United States is in the process of reviving its relations with Cuba, which in Soviet times had offered Moscow its closest military installation to U.S. territory, less than 100 km (60 miles) from the Florida Keys.

"The global situation is not static, it is in flux, and the last two years have made significant changes to international affairs and security," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

"Therefore, it's quite natural that all countries assess these changes in line with their national interests and take certain steps in the way they consider appropriate."

The Russian Defense Ministry is considering the question of renewing Russia's presence in the bases in Cuba and Vietnam, according to Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov, who alluded to the issue during his speech at the State Duma on Oct. 7.

"We are working on it. We see this problem," said Pankov, responding to a parliamentarian's question about whether or not the ministry is working in this direction.

For now the issue of Russia's armed forces being present on a permanent basis at the radio-electronic center in Cuba’s Lourdes and Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay has not been decided officially. However, Russia's expert community is actively analyzing the suitability of the bases and their possible purpose.


"There was a radio-electronics intelligence center in Cuba. I think it should be reopened," said Reserve Lieutenant General Yevgeny Buzhinsky, council chairman at the PIR Center (Center for Political Research), an NGO that studies issues related to global security. In his view, it was a mistake to halt operations at the Russian radio-electronics intelligence center, which operated in Cuba from 1967 to 2002.

He added that the U.S. has maintained its radio-electronic intelligence facilities on the Mediterranean coast in Turkey: "Radio-electronic reconnaissance resources are always useful [because] technologies change and things are [always] perfected."

Other experts, however, do not believe that renewing the Russian presence in Cuba is a necessary step in the current military-political conditions.

"There is no military-strategic sense in establishing Russian military bases in Cuba. Such discussions are aimed at stirring the interest of the U.S., at complementing NATO's growing activity in Europe," said Maxim Starchak, scientific collaborator at Queen's University's Center for International and Defense Policy (Canada).

In Starchak's opinion, the Kremlin may use the talks of renewing its presence on the island as a way to show Washington "that every new countermove will only instigate a response, meaning that negotiations are necessary."

At the same time, none of the experts interviewed by RBTH believes that Moscow's potential decision to renew Russia's presence on Cuba will engender a repeat of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 since the Kremlin is unlikely to be thinking of deploying combat-ready troops or any type of missiles to the base in Lourdes.

However, the increased activity of the Russian navy in Southern Asia will most likely raise concerns in the U.S.

The possible expansion of the Russian naval presence in the Cam Ranh port in Vietnam and consequently the permanent presence of Russian military forces in this region represents a certain threat to the U.S. naval base in Guam, said Michael Kofman, a fellow at the Kennan Institute of the Wilson Center specializing in Russian military analysis.

In 2015 the U.S. State Department asked the Vietnamese government to cancel Russia's right to have its strategic bombers refuel at the Cam Ranh Base because of allegedly "provocative" Russian aviation flights near the U.S. base in Guam.

However, the Vietnamese government did not change its policy and the republic's ambassador to Russia said that the country was ready to continue accepting and servicing Russian ships at the Cam Ranh Base if this practice was not aimed at harming third countries.