A NECESSARY RESPONSE
On Tuesday, October 23, the Russian high leadership announced through various media outlets, including the Russian National Television Network, the reasons behind President Putin’s decision to shut down the Electronic Radar Monitoring Center located in Cuba.
This major network reported that the meeting held on Tuesday the 23rd between President Putin and the leaders of the parliamentary factions in the Duma had lasted four hours, and that among the main issues addressed was the closing of the bases in Cuba and Vietnam.
Viacheslav Volodin, leader of the Homeland-All Russia faction, –one of the main parties backing the government– stated that the closing of the bases in Cuba and Vietnam had been discussed, along with the situation in Afghanistan and Abkjazia. He emphasized that the President had provided an extensive explanation, and had shown those present secret documents related to the matter. He added that the closing of the Lourdes Electronic Radar Monitoring Center was more than an economic decision, and that it had strategic implications at the current juncture.
Following the interview with Volodin, the network aired a report on the closing of the two bases by a very well informed journalist who is very close to the inner workings of the government with regards to the closing of the bases. He said that the decision was justified, given that the technology there was obsolete and the money spent on the leasing and maintenance of the center could be used to acquire the most sophisticated monitoring equipment available to undertake the tasks currently carried out through Lourdes. He stressed that Russia’s decision was made independently, and had not been consulted with the United States, and that despite the disappointment of the Cuban authorities, the lease on the center was terminated.
He then went on to add that the relevant agreements had expired on December 31, 1999, and that, at a certain point, an official representative of the Cuban Ministry of Armed Forces had proposed the closing of the Russian station. In any case, he said, the presence of the center in Cuba would be limited, because as soon as relations improved with the United States, the Cubans themselves would call for the departure of the Russian contingent. This had already happened in the economic area, he added, where the Cubans had turned down offers from Russia in favor of million-dollar deals with Western countries such as Canada, Spain, and Italy, because this was what best suited Cuba. Now, this decision was what best suited Russia. He mentioned that Cuba had also not resolved the matter of its debt, and concluded the report by indicating that the closing of the center responded to the national interest of Russia.
This version of the disagreement between the governments of Russia and Cuba, put forth by an impromptu spokesman for the highest Russian authorities, is unquestionably intended to disseminate that tale, --a rather unintelligible one even for those best informed on the issue-- given all the omissions, arbitrary interpretations, lies and slander it contains, aside from the dearth of ethical principles and undeniable chauvinism evident in such declarations.
Thus, Cuba has no choice but to respond calmly, and with absolute truthfulness, to the arguments wielded in this maneuver aimed at confusing and deceiving both the Russian people and the international public opinion.
The Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Army Commander Anatoly Kvashnin, had commented six days earlier that the closing of the base in Cuba was urgently required in order to save resources and devote them to meet the needs of the country’s armed forces. According to Kvashnin, Russia could use the annual leasing fees of 200 million US dollars to buy 20 reconnaissance satellites and up to 100 radars, although such figures fail to make sense to any serious specialist.
He added that the annual cost of maintaining the Cam Ranh base in Vietnam could be used to build an atomic submarine equipped with modern weapons.
On the other hand, the director of the Russian Aerospace Agency, Yuri Koptiev, stated on October 23 that building and launching a single surveillance and reconnaissance satellite would cost an estimated 130 million US dollars. Two days later, an AP report noted that this same specialist had said that 80% of Russia’s hundred-odd military and civilian satellites had already served longer than their designed active lifetime.
In the view of other prestigious Russian specialists quoted by press agencies, Army Commander Kvashnin’s optimistic plans for gathering intelligence from outer space, as well as supplying the Russian Armed Forces with new submarines and planes, is simply that: optimism. Over a period of almost 10 years, not a single new satellite has been launched, nor have the armed forces been equipped with any new submarines or planes; in many regions, they even lack uniforms and boots.
Other significant declarations have been made.
For Vladimir Platonov, Speaker of the Moscow Duma, the loss of a military base is "a tragedy for any state," while Yevgeny Mikhailov, governor of the Pskov region, believes these bases need to be preserved.
Alexei Koshmarov, head of "Novokom" information analysis center, has said that these bases are necessary from a geopolitical standpoint, in addition to the fact that they give Russia the status of a "world power."
According to last Friday’s Nezavizimaya Gazeta, "Russia’s strategic retreat is now complete," and by giving up the two bases in Cuba and Vietnam, the federation is bidding farewell to its last symbols of greatness.
The bases are necessary, the publication continues, if Russia wants to preserve the title of "world power" and participate as such in the making of decisions concerning current international affairs and problems.
The Moskovskie Komsomoletz observed that Russia’s leaders are "very broad-spirited to be making such large gifts on behalf of a not-very-wealthy country."
In the view of this newspaper, Putin wants to offer a gift to the United States by giving up its military bases in Vietnam and Cuba while turning Russia into a "regional power," or as Deputy Victor Iliukhin puts it, "reducing Russia’s interests merely to the surroundings of Moscow."
According to the vice president of the State Duma, Vladimir Zhirinovski, by giving up the radar station in Cuba, Russia will soon "be left without eyes or ears," since the same fate will soon befall other Russian stations based abroad, in Azerbaijan, Belarus and Armenia.
The Moskovskie Novosti, also on October 23, quoted General Andrei Nikolaev, chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee and first substitute for the Chief of the General Staff, as saying that no satellite could make up for the loss of the Lourdes radar station. According to the same article, practically all of Russia’s military leaders fully concur with Nikolaev’s opinion on the importance of Lourdes. The only explanation for the closing of the station, the newspaper indicated, is the desire to get closer to the United States and the West, seriously and forever. It added that many Generals still hope to convince the President not to close the station.
The electronic newspaper Viek reported that Igor Rodionov, Defense minister until 1997 and currently a deputy to the Russian State Duma, made the following statement on October 19, two days after Putin’s meeting with the Defense Ministry where the matter was addressed, and four days before his meeting with the leaders of factions in the Duma: "At first, I thought it was a Cuban initiative, that is, withdrawing the base in return for the lifting of the blockade. But, it is in fact a continuation of the concessions made by Russia. The Monitoring Center in Cuba covers the entire Western Hemisphere; it can actually keep track of all telephone conversations in the U.S. territory, except Alaska, along with many other things. This was a colossal means of containment. The Americans felt that they were constantly under surveillance and that it was very difficult to do anything secretly.
"The center obtained information on arms sales deals, it kept us appraised of the situation in this market, and we were able to obtain considerably large revenues."
Former president Yeltsin himself, in an October 23 interview with the Novaya Gazeta, declared, "Russia’s decision to give up its bases is not clear. There is still a great deal to be pondered and calculated here."
During the visit made by the heads of state of Russia and Cuba to the Lourdes Electronic Radar Monitoring Center on December 14, 2000, President Putin, addressing the staff and Russian officials working there, stated: "On behalf of the leadership of Russia, I wish you all the best. I want you to know that the results of the work you do here are not wasted. The results of your work are useful and they are necessary not only for the military leadership, but also for the political leadership of the country, especially today, when Russia is gradually yet steadily and assuredly rising to its feet."
That same day, in a short speech, the president of the Council of State of Cuba responded: "Really, it is very true what President Putin was saying about the importance of your work, not only for his country but for our own country as well."
It was precisely on the very next day, December 15, 2000, during a press conference in the Council of State of Cuba, that President Putin, referring to the Monitoring Center, stated: "Russia and Cuba are interested in continuing to foster its activity. It has been fully functioning for some time, in accordance with international standards and regulations. It has done so successfully, and Russia and Cuba declare themselves as countries interested in continuing to foster its activity."
At no time did President Putin or the Russian military chiefs say anything about the equipment there being inadequate. On the contrary, they had been constantly modernizing it over the last 10 years, and expressed their desire to continue upgrading it. The sole and seemingly insignificant point of contention with the Russian military chiefs was over their proposal that Cuba contribute 25% of what it received for the services it provided to the center for investment in new equipment, given that the center also supplied information to our own country.
However, in view of the fact that only a limited amount of information pertaining to its own security is of any use to Cuba, and that it had no need for strategic information solely of interest to Russia, which was in fact the fundamental purpose of the center and constituted the vast majority of the information received there, we informed them that although we were willing to study their proposal, it was not fair to expect us to invest the amount they were soliciting.
At a later date, in order to clear up the pending disagreements before the end of the year, on August 17, 2001, Cuba officially informed the Russian government of its decision to contribute no less than 12.5% of the compensation we received, which reduced the difference to only 25 million. This figure could still be discussed. This was always a routine and normal point of discussion before the signing of every agreement, since the first one signed in July of 1993, which also included the payment corresponding to the previous year, 1992.
It should be added that Russia had always asked for a longer commitment than five years, something that Cuba systematically opposed. Following President Putin’s visit to Cuba, we agreed to extend the next protocol to cover a ten-years period. Practically all of the fundamental differences had been reduced or were close to being reduced to zero. This is the true and irrefutable story.
At the time of our last contact, a special envoy sent to Cuba by President Putin, on October 16, just 11 days ago when the war was already underway in Afghanistan, announced Russia’s bizarre and surprising unilateral decision to close the center, as the only response to Cuba’s generous offer of August 17. We tried to reason with him, to explain how unadvisable it was to adopt this measure right away, that it would be preferable to wait at least the minimum amount of time needed before doing it or even announcing it, while waiting for the international situation to clear up.
How is it possible that just a few months after the Russian president’s visit to Cuba, and in the midst of a grave crisis that poses a threat to world peace, and especially to Cuba subjected for more than 40 years to a blockade, aggression and terrorism, the decision is hastily made to shut down the Electronic Radar Monitoring Center in Cuba and is then immediately made public, despite our insistence that this was the most untimely and dangerous time for our country?
Important and prestigious Russian personalities have honestly and courageously expressed their views.
This could not be a matter of economic concerns. It was a political decision adopted beforehand. Army Commander Kvashnin merely resorted to false pretexts that no one can take seriously.
Anyone can see that replacing the information obtained through the Lourdes Electronic Radar Monitoring Center with other supposedly more sophisticated and efficient means would take many years, if there really were the technology available and the will to do it. The center in Lourdes provided Russia with 75% of the strategic information it needed to prevent aggression and it has been its main instrument for monitoring the observation of its ABM Treaties with the United States. As of now, Russia will be left without the information essential for its own defense for who knows how long. It will be unprepared and unprotected in the face of any contingencies. Asking the United States to agree now, a posteriori, to dismantling a similar facility in Norway, 40 kilometers from the Russian border, is truly laughable.
The world is perfectly aware that Russia has been stripped of over 400 billion US dollars in ten years, ruthlessly plundered from the immense wealth and riches created and developed by its people, laundered and funneled to Western Europe and the United States by major Western bank consortia. With just a part of that wealth, that great nation, even after the disintegration of the USSR, could have contributed to the development of a multipolar world, which is humanity’s most fervent desire today. Yet, not a penny has been recovered, and absolutely no one has been prosecuted. Our people have sustained losses of tens of billions of US dollars since all of the agreements with our country were unilaterally recalled.
In closing the Lourdes station, they are using the excuse of annually saving 0.05% of the money stolen from the Russian people, in other words, 2000 times less.
President Putin himself admitted to the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda on March 22, 2001, that 30 billion US dollars had been plundered from the national economy and taken abroad in the year 2000 alone.
Who can be fooled by such arguments?
Since Granma must address other matters of major interest brought up by Russian government spokespeople, it will continue to put forward Cuba’s points of view in upcoming issues.
October 26, 2001