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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Russia closes Vietnam naval base
Russian warships
The Soviet Pacific Fleet used Cam Ranh Bay
Russia has signed an agreement with Vietnam to hand back the Cam Ranh Bay naval base - once the largest Soviet base outside the Warsaw Pact.

The closure ceremony is scheduled for this weekend.

Cam Ranh Bay base
The base housed up to 10,000 troops
In its heyday, the deep-water base was a symbol of Soviet military might, housing up to 10,000 troops, 15 ships and 30 aircraft.

The base was built by the United States during the Vietnam War, but Moscow has leased it for free since 1979.

The withdrawal from Cam Ranh Bay leaves the Russian military with just the bases in former Soviet republics outside Russia itself.

Its strongest military presence outside Russia is in Ukraine and Tajikistan.

Target changes

The last Russian Il-76 transport plane is due to leave the base after this weekend's ceremony.

Igor Dygalo, an aide to the Russian Navy commander-in-chief, told Interfax news agency that the transfer of base facilities and installations was done "in the traditional atmosphere of mutual understanding and absolute trust".

Russia announced last October that it was abandoning the base for financial reasons.

It had been a centre of Soviet signals intelligence and transit point for Soviet military aircraft and warships.

But following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's attention switched to monitoring Chinese communications in the South China Sea.

Cuba base closed

Russia also shut down a Cold War listening post in Cuba in January.

Moscow had had a military presence on Cuba for almost four decades and was paying $200m a year to lease the base.

The Cuban authorities were dismayed, saying the closure of the facililty, which housed radar and electronic equipment, constituted a grave threat to the island's security.

The base at Lourdes, about 20 km (12.5 miles) from Havana, was set up in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis to monitor US military moves and communications.

See also:

27 Jan 02 | Europe
Russia closes Cuba base
22 Mar 01 | Americas
Cold War enemies make up
23 Feb 98 | Americas
CIA blamed over Bay of Pigs
05 Apr 00 | Europe
Analysis: Spymasters change focus
03 Oct 01 | Europe
Analysis: Putin looks West
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