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Cuba, Russian Bombers And Shadows of Khrushchev

Rather than with armored thrusts and counter-thrusts on the plains of Europe, the United States and the former Soviet Union waged the Cold War through violent and stability dislocating proxy wars, unseemly regional alliances, and mutual great state brinkmanship. Nowadays, the U.S. and Russia engage in all but the first in an ever-escalating standoff reminiscence of Cold War tensions.

Cuba, once the principle conduit for Soviet influence in the Western Hemisphere, has once again resurfaced as a potential American pressure point in this latest version of an old global game. Apparently as a strategic rejoinder to a U.S. anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, which neither reduces much less negates Russia’s nuclear deterrent capability, a Russian newspaper—Izvestia—claims the Kremlin plans to utilize Cuba as a refueling base for nuclear capable bombers. From a July 23rd _Reuters _article:

Russia’s Izvestia newspaper this week quoted a “highly placed source” as saying Russia could land Tu-160 supersonic bombers nicknamed “White Swans” in Cuba in response to a planned U.S. missile defense shield in Europe that Moscow opposes.

Officials in Russia, according to the Reuters piece, have “denied the Izvestia report.” Nonetheless, the specter of Russian bombers capable of delivering a nuclear payload refueling on Cuba invokes a famous Cold War parallel: the Cuban Missile Crisis. More germane to the present day, however, it strongly suggests that Latin America is at least theoretically in play again.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union cultivated relationships with a number of Latin American Leftist leaders besides Fidel Castro. Nicaraguan Carlos Fonseca Amador, co-founder of the anti-Somoza dynasty Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) and an unapologetic Marxist, for example, served as a trusted KGB agent under the codename GIDROLOG.(i) Likewise, the KGB dispatched a veteran KGB agent, Svyatoslav Kuznetsov, from the KGB’s Mexico City residency to “co-ordinate” covert operations to help get Salvador Allende elected president of Chile in 1970.(ii)

Today, Russia seems content to make nice with anti-American agitators like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Given Chavez’s bellicose rhetoric and capacity for regional geo-strategic mischief and more, and Russia’s continued “know-how” in the black arts of weapons manufacture, this relationship bears watching. If Chavez was willing to clandestinely support one terrorist organization (FARC) to the detriment of one his nation-state enemies (Columbia), the United States should not discount the possibility that he would aid another (Al Q?) to damage the great “imperialist empire” to the North. And how might his weapons procurement potential from Russia impact the nature of such assistance?

Whether driven by ideology, ala the Cold War, or animus at perceived encroachments on a sphere of influence (U.S. anti-missile defense system components in Poland/Czech Republic), Russia is serving notice that America’s backyard can be reopened as a front in any prospective new “Cold War” against the one-time “Main Adversary.” The good news is, we have seen this all before. The bad news is, we have seen this all before.


(i) Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, (New York: Basic Books, 2005) p. 41

(ii) Andrew and Mitrokhin, p. 71