October 7, 2016 — 8:23 AM PDT
Threatening to open Cold War wounds and further aggravate ties with the U.S. that are already strained by the conflict in Syria, a senior Russian defense official said the military is considering a possible return to its Soviet-era bases in Cuba and Vietnam.
In the clearest confirmation to date that Russia may scrap its decision to withdraw from the two countries more than a decade ago, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told lawmakers in Moscow on Friday that the military is revisiting the issue, without providing more details, according to the state-run Tass news service. Responding to a question about the plans, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the global security situation has become “rather fluid” after “substantial changes” over the past two years.
“It’s natural that all countries are assessing these changes in accordance with their national interests and taking certain measures they consider necessary,” Peskov said, referring more detailed questions to the Defense Ministry.
A move to reclaim the bases, abandoned shortly after Putin came to power in 2000, would further expose fault lines of the Cold War standoff with the U.S. as the two former rivals now duel over the 5 1/2 year war in Syria. While Russia withdrew from Cuba and Vietnam, it kept its small base in the Syrian port of Tartus, the only naval facility it’s maintained outside the former Soviet Union.
Since Putin entered the conflict in the Middle Eastern country on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad a year ago, Russia has now added a second base in Syria’s Khmeimim, used for conducting air raids against groups opposed to government forces there. The lower house of parliament on Friday ratified a treaty that allows Russia to keep the air base in Syria indefinitely.
The U.S. has blamed Putin’s government for indiscriminate bombing that has killed civilians and targeted hospitals in Syria, cutting bilateral discussions with Russia over the conflict after a Sept. 9 cease-fire deal collapsed within days. Russia hasn’t budged from its support for Assad, continuing to back the Syrian regime’s bombardments in Aleppo, where the United Nations estimates 275,000 people are trapped.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday called for an investigation into possible war crimes in Syria after a hospital bombardment killed 20 people, saying that Russia and Assad’s regime “owe the world more than an explanation” for the attack.
The clashing views are reviving tensions started by the separatist war in Ukraine, with the U.S. and the European Union accusing Russia of backing the insurgency. Russia’s expanding military presence, from Vietnam to Latin America, has already drawn notice from the U.S.
Cuba, VietnamThe State Department last year confirmed then that the U.S. was pressing Vietnam to bar Russian military aircraft from refueling at the former American base at Cam Ranh Bay, while a U.S. commander raised concerns about Russia’s military activities in the Western Hemisphere. The facility in Cam Ranh Bay, a U.S. base during the Vietnam War, was a Soviet naval base until 2002.
In 2012, a senior military official in Moscow said that Russia was in talks to set up resupply bases in Cuba after undertaking its biggest military overhaul since the Soviet era. Putin visited the Caribbean island in 2014, with Russia writing off $32 billion of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt.
Under the deal that ended the 1962 Cuban crisis, the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles on the island and pledged not to station offensive weapons. Russian military cooperation with Cuba ended in 2002 after Russia closed its radar base at Lourdes, Russia’s only intelligence-gathering center in the Western Hemisphere, which had been operating since the 1960s.