WASHINGTON, July 17 (RIA Novosti) - The agreement between Russia and Cuba to reopen a Soviet-era intelligence facility in Lourdes near Havana is a way for Russia to "get back at the Americans" in light of Moscow's strained relations with Washington, Tom Wheeler, an independent political expert and former South African diplomat, told RIA Novosti.
“The reached agreement indicates that Russia is intent on extending and increasing its interests and influence in the backyard of the US – in Latin America,” said Wheeler, former South African ambassador in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkey.
“In the context of the US sanctions over Ukraine, this is a way of 'getting back at the Americans,” he said.
Russia's Kommersant business daily reported Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the deal during his visit to Cuba last week. Putin denied the information.
The USSR's largest facility of this kind opened in 1967 and allowed to control American radio and telephone communications. The facility shut down in 2001 due to financial issues and a request by the US.
“The tense relations between Russia and the US over Ukraine make such an agreement with Cuba as a near neighbor of the US unsurprising,” Wheeler said.
“[The fact that] the US has not restored normal relations with Cuba after nearly 60 years makes such an agreement even more likely,” he added.
The former diplomat added that stories of nations spying on each other have become commonplace since the case of the National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who published secret US government documents last year, gained publicity.
“If anything, this could raise the temperature between the US and Russia even more,” he said, adding, “Everybody is doing it. Why should anyone be surprised?”
Cuba remains one of Russia’s key allies in the region, with trade between the two nations topping $200 million last year. Last week, Putin also signed a law writing off 90 percent of Cuba's unpaid Soviet-era debt.