Date registered: Aug 2002
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Cuban Missile Crisis: Partie deux?
Russia 'may use Cuba to refuel nuclear bombers'
Russia is said to be considering the use of bases in Cuba as a refuelling point for its nuclear bombers, in a move reminiscent of the 1962 missile crisis.
The move would be in retaliation for the Bush administration's plan to site a missile defence shield in Europe. Russia says America's proposal for the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic poses a direct threat to its security.
Citing a "highly placed military source", a report in Monday's Izvestiya said the Kremlin wanted to use Cuba as a base for its long-range Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic nuclear bombers. "While they are deploying the anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, our long-range strategic aircraft already will be landing in Cuba," the source told the paper. No final decision on landing bombers in Cuba had been taken, it added.
In 1962 Nikita Khrushchev, Russia's then leader, attempted to site nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island. His aim was to lessen the then strategic nuclear gap with the US. He eventually backed down and withdrew the missiles. The US secretly removed its missiles from Turkey.
Izvestiya is owned by Russia's state gas giant Gazprom and reflects official thinking. It is frequently used by the Kremlin as a vehicle for leaking information. The possible use of Cuba as a nuclear base dominated yesterday's Russian newspapers. Komsomolskaya Pravda said "our bombers" could be stationed under America's "belly", threatening the US in the same way it threatens Russia.
But Russia's defence ministry poured cold water on the report yesterday. "Russia, guided by its peaceful policy, is not creating military bases at the borders of other states," Russian news agencies quoted Ilshat Baichurin, acting head of the defence ministry's information department, as saying.
US and European diplomats also played down the report, saying they did not regard the threat as realistic even though General Norton Schwartz, who has been nominated as the US air force commander, warned on Tuesday that such a move by Moscow would amount to crossing a dangerous threshold.
Russian defence analysts told the Guardian there was little strategic point in using Cuba as a base and the idea seemed to have been floated to irritate the US.
Russia's nuclear aircraft have a range of up to 1,900 miles, allowing them to fire a nuclear missile at the US from much further away than Cuba, defence expert Pavel Felgenhauer said.
It was unclear yesterday whether Cuba had agreed to Russia's proposal. In a brief note on a government website, Fidel Castro said his brother Ra√ļl, Cuba's president, was wise not to respond to the report. Most observers believe that the president would be unlikely to agree to any request from Moscow.
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