During a visit to Cuba last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly announced with Cuban leader Raul Castro that it would re-open a Soviet-era listening post on the Caribbean island nation. In exchange for Russia being permitted to operate the post, roughly $35 billion in outstanding Cuban debt to the former USSR has been forgiven.
This isn’t the first time the two nations have discussed the former satellite state’s debt situation. In 2013, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met with Castro to restructure the same debt. In a foretelling 2013 report, WorldCrunch anticipated the recent headlines:
The terms of the debt restructuring are still unknown, and both sides seem intent on keeping it a secret. But in other cases where Russia has agreed to restructure Soviet-era debt, the deal has involved writing off between 90% and 95% of the debt. So it is unlikely that Cuba will end up owing more than $3 billion.
It’s not exactly clear yet what the Russian’s intend to do with the physical Lourdes site. The New York Times reported Wednesday on the history and significance of the Russian surveillance post:
Russia vacated the listening post site at Lourdes, outside Havana, in 2001. At the time, Mr. Putin cited the strapped finances of the post-Soviet Russian government and said the war in Chechnya was a higher priority than maintaining a Cold War relic half a world away.
In its heyday, the Soviet signals intelligence base at Lourdes enabled Moscow to listen in on microwave transmissions of telephone conversations in the southeastern United States, keep an eye on the United States Navy in the Atlantic, monitor the space program at Cape Canaveral and communicate with its spies on American soil. In 1993, when Mr. Castro was chief of the Cuban armed forces, he boasted that Russia obtained 75 percent of its strategic intelligence on the United States through Lourdes.
The facility includes a large array of satellite dishes and antennas spread over about 28 square miles, about 150 miles from the Florida coast. The Kommersant report said that a decade of booming oil revenue meant that Russia could once again afford to operate Lourdes, and that deteriorating relations with the United States prompted a desire to reopen a peephole on a “potential enemy.”
It was not clear what might be left of the equipment at Lourdes, or how useful it would be after 13 years of technological advances and the gravitation of much communications traffic to fiber-optic and satellite links. Even so, Viktor I. Mukharovsky, a retired colonel, said in a telephone interview that the Russian military was “extraordinarily interested” in reactivating the post, which could help it gauge the state of readiness of the American military, among other things.
“It’s no secret that when we left in 2001, we expected to launch a fleet of radio electronic surveillance satellites,” he said. “But we never found the money, and — speaking softly — our satellite surveillance capabilities are still modest.”
I am sure that Putin’s guest, Edward Snowdin, will object to Russia’s use of this post to invade US citizens privacy by listening in on US communications. Right? Right?