Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and President of the Council of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba Raul Castro Ruz during a press statement at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. (RIA Novosti)Moscow and Havana have reportedly reached an agreement on reopening the SIGINT facility in Lourdes, Cuba - once Russia’s largest foreign base of this kind - which was shut down in 2001 due to financial problems and under US pressure, rt.com reports.
When operational, the facility was manned by thousands of military and intelligence personnel, whose task was to intercept signals coming from and to the US territory and to provide communication for the Russian vessels in the western hemisphere.
Russia considered reopening the Lourdes base since 2004 and has sealed a deal with Cuba last week during the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the island nation, reports Kommersant business daily citing multiple sources.
“I can say one thing: at last!” one of the sources commented on the news to the paper, adding that the significance of the move is hard to overestimate.
The facility in Lourdes, a suburb of Havana located just 250km from continental USA, was opened in 1967. At the peak of the cold war it was the largest signal intelligence center Moscow operated in a foreign nation, with 3,000 personnel manning it.
From the base Russia could intercept communications in most part of the US including the classified exchanges between space facilities in Florida and American spacecraft. Raoul Castro, then-Defense Minister of Cuba, bragged in 1993 that Russia received 75 percent of signal intelligence on America through Lourdes, with was probably an overstatement, but not by a large amount.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the base was downscaled, but continued operation. After Russia was hit the 1998 economic crisis, it found it difficult to maintain many of its old assets, including the Lourdes facility. In Soviet times Cuba hosted it rent-free, but starting 1992 Moscow had to pay Havana hundreds of millions dollars each year in addition to operational costs to keep the facility open.vailable for comment on Wednesday.