By CARA CANCELMO ——
A top Russian defense official’s comments that Russia is considering re-establishing its former military bases in Cuba and Vietnam is sparking alarm over memories of the Cold War.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai A. Pankov spoke briefly about reconstructing former military bases before lawmakers voted on an agreement to authorize permanent Russian military presence within Syria.
“We are rethinking the decisions that were made earlier,” Pankov told Russia’s parliament without adding any additional details.
He was talking about the decision in the early 2000s to close the Lourdes signals intelligence base in Cuba and the deep-water Cam Rahn Bay naval base in Vietnam (photo above) as a way to decrease Russian military presence throughout the world following the deterioration of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s relationship with the U.S. has already been significantly strained due to Russian military activity in Syria supporting President Bashar al-Assad.
The U.S. condemned Russia for bombings that killed Syrian civilians. Bilateral discussions have been discontinued with Russia as a result of widespread bombardment within Syria, specifically against hospitals.
The United States currently has a good relationship with Vietnam, whose relationship with China has become increasingly rocky.
Russia and Vietnam have agreed to allow Russian ships to enter Cam Ranh Bay even though the United States urged Vietnam to block a Russian military aircraft from refueling at a former Soviet naval base there.
The United States is currently mending its relations with the Cuban government, which once provided the former Soviet Union with its closest military position to the U.S., a distance of less than 90 miles.
“The international situation is not static, it is rather versatile. … Thus, of course, all countries, following their national interests, analyze those changes and undertake certain measures in the directions they consider necessary,” Peskov told the Russian news agency Tass.
However, the desire of Russia, Cuba and Vietnam to develop such military bases is still unclear.
“Depending on the purpose behind it, there’s no great sense of angst here by one nation looking to explore the notion of overseas basing. … It really goes to intent,” spokesman John Kirby said last month. “The fact is we have overseas bases ourselves … and it’s not uncommon for other nations to do that.”
Senior military officials in Moscow began discussions in 2012 to resupply former Soviet bases in Cuba. In 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the island and dismissed Cuba’s $32 billion Soviet-era debt.
The United States has recently begun to increase interaction with Cuba, despite political opposition to improving relations.
“The president has made a decision – a policy decision – that it is in the best interest of the United States to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and to seek the end of the embargo,” Kirby said in a separate press briefing.
(Written by Cara Cancelmo; Nov. 3, 2016)