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Russia needs bombers in Cuba due to NATO expansion - ex-commander

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The possible deployment of Russian strategic bombers in Cuba may be an effective response to the placement of NATO bases near Russia's borders, a former Air Force commander said on Monday.

Russian strategic bombers (Image gallery)

MOSCOW, July 21 (RIA Novosti) - The possible deployment of Russian strategic bombers in Cuba may be an effective response to the placement of NATO bases near Russia's borders, a former Air Force commander said on Monday.

Russian daily Izvestia earlier on Monday cited a senior Russian military source as saying that Russian strategic bombers could be stationed again in Cuba, only 90 miles from the U.S. coast, in response to the U.S. missile shield in Europe.

"If these plans are being considered, it would be a good response to the attempts to place NATO bases near the Russian borders," Gen. of the Army Pyotr Deinekin told RIA Novosti.

"I do not see anything wrong with it because nobody listens to our objections when they place airbases and electronic monitoring and surveillance stations near our borders," the general said.

However, Deinekin said the possibility of Russian bombers being stationed in Cuba is largely hypothetical, because Russia's Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear strategic bombers are both capable of reaching the U.S. coast, patrolling the area for about 1.5 hours, and returning to airbases in Russia with mid-air refueling.

Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans last August, following an order signed by former president Vladimir Putin. Russian bombers have since carried out over 80 strategic patrol flights and have often been escorted by NATO planes.

Deinekin suggested that Cuba could be used as a refueling stopover for Russian aircraft rather than as a permanent base, because the Russian political and military leadership would be unlikely to take such a drastic step under current global political conditions.

In October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to the brink of nuclear war when Soviet missiles were stationed in Cuba.

The crisis was resolved after 12 days when the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, backed down and ordered the missiles removed.

Moscow had a military presence on Cuba for almost four decades after that, maintaining an electronic listening post at Lourdes, about 20 km (12.5 miles) from Havana, to monitor U.S. military moves and communications.

Russia was paying $200 million a year to lease the base, which it closed down in January 2002.