TODAY CUBA (The Telegraph) A Russian spy ship has docked in central Havana on the eve of a ground-breaking visit to Cuba by a senior US delegation in a defiant display of military might by President Vladimir Putin.
The Viktor Leonov, an armed intelligence-gathering vessel that monitors US communications, arrived at a passenger cruise terminal in full public view for what a Russian embassy official called a “friendly” three-day stay.
The port call came on the same day that Kremlin defence minister Sergei Shoigu announced plans for Russia to extend its global military footprint with new bases in a number of countries, including Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Mr Putin seemed to be sending a typically blunt message about Russia’s influence with its communist Caribbean ally by timing the vessel’s visit to coincide with this week’s trip by a US team led by Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state.
Ms Jacobson, the top US diplomat for the Americas, will on Wednesday begin negotiating a restoration of diplomatic ties with Washington’s long-time foe Cuba against the backdrop of a stark visual reminder of the island’s pivotal role in the Cold War.
President Barack Obama last month announced plans to end five decades of hostility with Havana by re-establishing full diplomatic links and easing trade and travel restrictions.
But Russia also struck a deal last year with Cuba to re-open a huge eavesdropping base just 150 miles from the US mainland as relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated over the Ukraine crisis.
The Viktor Leonov monitors military and some civilian electronic communications, with its focus almost exclusively on the US. It regularly patrols the waters of the North Atlantic and the Caribbean and last docked in Havana in 2012.
It re-appeared as Mr Shoigu told reporters in Moscow about Russian’s plans to establish a permanent military presence outside its borders in several countries in Latin America and Asia.
“The talks are under way, and we are close to signing the relevant documents,” said the minister. He added that the negotiations cover not only military bases but also visits to ports for Russian vessels and the opening of refueling sites for Russian strategic bombers on patrol.
Moscow currently has only one naval base outside the former Soviet Union – in Tartus, Syria, but the fate of this naval facility is uncertain because of the ongoing civil war in that country.