The Russian military recently dispatched a guided-missile warship to Cuba as part of what U.S. officials say are growing military, intelligence and economic ties between Moscow and Havana.
The missile cruiser is the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet, according to state-run Russian news reports.
“The cruiser Moskva and the large seagoing tanker Ivan Bubnov set off for Havana on the fourth week of their long-distance deployment,” a fleet spokesman told Interfax-AVN on Friday. On the way, the ship conducted a test launch of a cruise missile, he said.
After Havana, the warship will visit Caracas, Venezuela; Managua, Nicaragua; and Praia Port in the Cape Verde Islands off eastern Africa.
The visit to Cuba is part of what the U.S. officials said is a push by Moscow to boost relations with Cuba in the military, energy and transportation sectors.
The effort was kicked off in February when Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that Moscow is canceling most of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt, estimated at close to $30 billion, while he denounced the U.S. embargo against the communist island nation.
The closer ties also appear related to Russian efforts to maintain influence in the region after the death of leftist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and the expected retirement of Cuban President Raul Castro in the coming months.
Russian military ties with Cuba were bolstered during a visit to Havana in April by Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Valeri Gerasimov.
U.S. officials said Gen. Gerasimov’s visit included stops at Cuban military and intelligence sites and was viewed as an indication that Moscow wants to step up both its military and intelligence presence in Cuba.
During the Soviet period, the Russians operated a large electronic spying facility at Lourdes, near Havana, that was capable of intercepting most U.S. communications in the southeastern United States. It was less than 100 miles off the coast of Key West.
Now there are signs that the Russians want to return to Lourdes for more electronic spying.
The Russians also are assisting the Cubans economically with offshore oil prospecting, plans for a new international airport near Havana and deliveries of Russian passenger jets.
The warship visit follows Panama’s recent seizure of a North Korean freighter covertly ferrying Soviet-made missiles and aircraft from Cuba to North Korea, in apparent violation of U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang over its missile and nuclear tests.
UNILATERAL NUCLEAR CUTS OPPOSED
The military nominee to be the next commander of U.S. Strategic Command said this week that he opposes unilateral cuts in U.S. strategic nuclear forces. The command is in charge of nuclear deterrence and war fighting.
Adm. Cecil E.D. Haney, currently head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said during his Senate nomination hearing Tuesday that he would not support further cuts in the U.S. strategic arsenal unless they are carried out jointly with Russia.
The comments followed President Obama‘s recent speech in Berlin promising a further one-third cut in deployed U.S. nuclear warheads. During the speech, the president made scant mention of the cuts as part of another arms agreement with Russia.
“My advice would be that we negotiate a bilateral agreement that also has verifiable components to it, so that we can ensure that the said reduction would work,” Adm. Haney said in response to questions from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Ms. Ayotte said “it wasn’t clear” from the president’s Berlin speech whether his proposal to cut deployed warheads to about 1,000 weapons would be made unilaterally or negotiated in tandem with the Russians.
“So, just to be clear, you would oppose a unilateral reduction?” Ms. Ayotte asked.
“Senator, that is correct,” the four-star admiral said.
U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles are in urgent need of multibillion-dollar modernization efforts that Mr. Obama promised during Senate ratification debate on the 2010 New START agreement with Russia.
However, full funding for nuclear modernization has not been carried out, members of Congress said.
Mr. Obama has said he hopes to eliminate all nuclear weapons, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was an outspoken advocate of total nuclear disarmament as a senior member of the anti-nuclear weapons group Global Zero.
Adm. Haney said nuclear modernization is “even more critical” for the aging U.S. arsenal as New START reductions are carried out. The treaty calls for cutting deployed strategic warheads to 1,550.
“It is so important that we have a secure and a safe and effective nuclear deterrent, and that the industrial base supports that,” Adm. Haney said.
Maintaining funds for nuclear modernization will be difficult as defense sequestration spending cuts are imposed, he added.
WARNING ON WOMEN IN COMBAT
Retired Army officer Robert L. Maginnis, a veteran of the culture wars as an analyst for the Family Research Council, has written a book on the Obama’s administration’s latest military social experiment: lifting the ban on women in ground combat.
The book, “Deadly Consequences: How Cowards Are Pushing Women Into Combat,” provides a devastating, point-by-point rebuttal to President Obama‘s generals who argue that women are needed in the infantry, in tanks and with special operations forces.
Mr. Maginnis argues that rather than strengthening the force, women in land combat will lead to reduced military physical standards designed to keep them from flunking out. That in turn will produce less-ready combat units, he says. Mr. Maginnis also foresees a rise, not a decrease as the Pentagon says, in sexual assaults with the policy change. He also challenges the idea that women want to join ground combat.
“Lifting the ban will undermine the very ability of the men who do the killing on the front lines,” Mr. Maginnis writes. “Our last line of defense is our armed forces, and this administration wants to put America in jeopardy by compromising our very ability to protect our country, all in the name of equality.”
The Pentagon earlier this year lifted the longtime ban on women in direct ground combat units. It now is studying physical standards to see whether some of the requirements can be discarded.
The Marine Corps recently admitted six female officers to its demanding combat-qualification course. All six failed. Last week, Army and Marine Corps generals told Congress that they are looking at separate training techniques for women to ensure they are able to qualify for ground combat roles.
“If feminists and their political allies in the Pentagon, the White House and Congress are to succeed, they must first compromise military training and operational standards,” Mr. Maginnis writes.
“That will inevitably drain combat effectiveness, and the nation will be less secure [because] feminists will not be content with performance standards that women can’t meet.”
N. KOREA’S FAKE BACKPACK NUKES
The North Korean military showed off a purported backpack nuclear bomb unit at a recent military parade in Pyongyang, as U.S. and foreign analysts dismissed the tactical nuclear-bomb soldiers as communist propaganda.
The July 27 parade featured goose-stepping North Korean troops along with another display of the new KN-08 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile — carried atop a Chinese-made transporter erector launcher that U.S. officials say violates U.N.-imposed sanctions. The parade was held to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.
During the parade, an army unit marched through the street, with soldiers carrying small packages bearing the yellow and black radiation warning symbol.
A Western diplomat dismissed the North Korean military’s attempt to show off an arsenal of tactical nuclear suitcase bombs as a propaganda stunt aimed at sowing fear in the West.
“We don’t take that seriously because they probably painted the radiation symbol over some Hello Kitty backpacks they stole from Japan,” the official said. “No one believes that North Korea has the technology to make a miniature nuclear bomb like that.”
Said one U.S. official: “There are some good reasons to be concerned about North Korea’s military capabilities, but right now backpack-size nukes aren’t among them.”
Disclosure of the backpack nuclear squad was first reported in South Korea’s Daily NK online news site. The news agency reported in 2011 that the North Korean military had set up a “backpack-bomb unit” operating covertly at a logging camp. However, there is no evidence that the unit is equipped with nuclear arms.
A North Korean general recently stated publicly that its military forces had small nuclear warheads capable of being fired on North Korean missiles.
U.S. intelligence agencies do not know whether Pyongyang is able to make a nuclear device small enough to fit on a missile — or in a backpack.