- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

As the White House is actively engaged countering a shadowy but deadly threat around the world, a significant remnant of the Cold War has finally been relegated to history. Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised much of the world on yesterday, when he announced the Kremlin was closing its Lourdes spy facility in Cuba.

Moscow's reaffirmation of this cooperative relationship is a foreign-policy coup for President Bush, who has forged a strategic relationship with Russia. "It's a clear indication of the strategic realignment with the West that Putin is trying to effect," said Ariel Cohen, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Moscow is seeking to strengthen its security cooperation with the United States, and "having Russia in the tent and cooperating, rather than spoiling outside," is in the U.S. interest, he added. All the same, the United States' opposition to Russia's slaughter of Chechens and overzealous crackdown on the freedom of the press must continue to be a part of Washington's dialogue with the Kremlin.

The spy base, which was built by the Soviet Union and employs 1,500 people, had long been a source of contention aggravating U.S.-Russian relations. Through electronic surveillance out of Lourdes, the Russians may have even learned of U.S. battle plans for the Gulf War before they were executed, according to press reports, but the Kremlin apparently didn't pass this information on to Baghdad.

As Mr. Putin signaled his decision to close shop in Lourdes, he said he would redirect the $200 million it cost a year to operate the base to bolster terrorist surveillance capabilities along Russia's southern border. Gen. Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the Russian armed forces general staff, said the $200 million saved from the Lourdes withdrawal could be used to purchase about 100 of the most up-to-date radars.

Conversely, the base had long been a source of pride for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. After the demise of the Soviet Union, and therefore the flow of Soviet aid to Cuba, Russia's maintenance of the facility allowed Mr. Castro to continue touting his utility and ties to a geo-political power. Russia's exit plans are therefore "a tremendous blow to the Cubans," said Jose Cardenas, Washington director of the Cuban American National Foundation. The base "was really the last manifestation of the close Cuban-Soviet relationship during the Cold War," he added. Indeed, Mr. Castro stands today as an isolated relic of a past era, imposing an anachronistic, delegitimized and brutal dictatorship on a captive island.

America's strengthened strategic friendships are today a pivotal element of the president's terrorist-busting strategy. Although the challenges Washington is today confronting are indeed daunting, the defrosting of such Cold War hostilities is a welcomed change.

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