On Friday, July 11, Vladimir Putin reportedly signed off on a deal to forgive (or write off) $32 billion of Cuban debt to Russia. The deal was completed during a visit by Putin to Cuba at the start of a 6‑day tour through Latin America. Although it is generally acknowledged that this debt was unlikely ever to be repaid, the forgiveness of the debt (and the approval by Russia’s parliament of the measure) represents a tangible and significant step forward in the two countries’ strategic relationship. The significance of this relationship for Russia was underscored by Putin’s public comments during his visit that Russia is “interested in a strong, economically stable and politically independent, united Latin America that is becoming an important part of the emerging polycentric world order.”
This concession by Moscow no doubt helped facilitate the reopening of Russia’s Lourdes signals intelligence facility south of Havana, which was announced on July 16. The Lourdes base was initially established in 1964 and was operational until 2001. It was reportedly the Soviet Union’s largest covert military outpost with some 3,000 staff. The forgiveness of Cuba’s debt could yet advance several other specific projects of interest to Moscow, including: Russia obtaining a berth for Russia’s fleet at the new port facility of Mariel; and additional support for the exploration projects being conducted by Rosneft and Zarubezhneft offshore Cuba.