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Moscow (AFP) — Russia has provisionally agreed to reopen a major Cold War listening post on Cuba that was used to spy on the United States, a Russian daily reported Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin visited the island last week.

Kommersant reported that Russia and Cuba had agreed “in principle” to reopen the Lourdes base, mothballed since 2001, citing several sources within Russian authorities.

“The agreements were finalized while President Vladimir Putin visited Havana last Friday,” the respected daily wrote.

Russia had closed the Lourdes spy base south of Havana on Putin’s orders to save money and due to a rapprochement with the United States after the September 11 attacks.

But Moscow has since shown a new interest in Latin America and its Cold War ally Cuba and relations with the West have deteriorated amid the Ukraine crisis.

The base was set up in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis to spy on the United States. Just 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the US coast, it was the Soviet Union’s largest covert military outpost abroad with up to 3,000 staff.

It was used to listen in to radio signals including those from submarines and ships and satellite communications.

“All I can say is — finally!” one Russian source told Kommersant of the reported reopening.

The defense ministry and military high command declined to comment on the report to Kommersant.

Ahead of Putin’s visit to Cuba last week as part of a Latin American tour, Russia agreed to write off 90 percent of Cuba’s debt dating back to the Soviet era, totaling around $32 billion.

Russia paid Cuba rent of $200 million per year to use the base in the last few years it was open.

A former head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, told the newspaper the base would strengthen Russia’s international position.

“Lourdes gave the Soviet Union eyes in the whole of the western hemisphere,” he said. “For Russia, which is fighting for its lawful rights and place in the international community, it would be no less valuable than for the USSR.”

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

AFP Photo / Adalberto Roque

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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