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Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 08:09 GMT
Russia closes Cuba base
The Lourdes radar facility
The Lourdes base was set up after Cuban missile crisis
The Cuban authorities say Russia's last military base on the island has finally been shut down.

Cuban defence minister Raul Castro said only a few Russians remained at the electronic listening post near the capital Havana to oversee the shipping of equipment back to Russia.

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

The Russian move has been warmly received in Washington but criticised by the Cubans.

'Grave threat'

The decision to close Russia's largest military outpost abroad was announced in October by President Putin who said it was too expensive to maintain.

Vladimir Putin
Putin: Shutting base will save money

The move followed a rapprochement between Moscow and Washington after the 11 September attacks on the United States.

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.

About 1,500 Russian technicians and military personnel and their families lived and worked at the base.

When the closure was announced, Russian chief of staff General Anatoly Kvashnin said: "It costs $200m a year in rent to Cuba. For that amount, we can buy and launch 20 military satellites into space."

But, in an official statement shortly afterwards, the Cuban authorities said Mr Putin wanted the radar base shut down as "a special present" to US President George W Bush ahead of a meeting between the two men.

Sore point

The US welcomed Russia's announcement as another sign the Cold War was over.

The base had been a sore point in Russia-US relations.

The US said it been used as a centre for spying on its operations and Congress voted in 2000 to restrict financial aid to Russia unless it closed the base.

Denying the US spy claims, Moscow has always made clear it sees the base as vital for checking whether the US has complied with disarmament treaties, and for monitoring missile launches.

Mr Putin has stressed the decision does not mean its relations with Cuba - a key Cold War ally - are being scaled down.

A naval base at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam is also being closed.

The BBC's Andrew Bolton
"The pull-out was announced last year"
See also:

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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