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Russian General Threatens To Base Nuclear Strategic Bombers In Cuba

By | July 28, 2008

      Move Would Be Russian Retaliation For American Missile Defense System To Shield Europe From Iranian Missiles

      A Russian general said Russia may base or at least refuel strategic bombers carrying nuclear weapons at an airfield in Cuba just 90 miles from the United States.

      That would retaliate for U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland as a shield against Iranian ballistic missiles, according to RIA Novosti in Moscow, which quoted Izvestia.

      The Cuban-basing threat, however, wasn’t repeated publicly by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev or other senior Russians, and there was no top-level U.S. response by President Bush.

      Russia at times has responded to U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Europe with fury, claiming that the interceptors in the European Missile Defense (EMD) system that would sit in silos in Poland could be used to kill Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

      An exasperated Bush and other Americans have noted that would be impossible: there would be just 10 interceptors, versus hundreds of Russian ICBMs and thousands of nuclear warheads that Moscow wields. Further, the interceptors don’t have the acceleration and speed to catch Russian ICBMs, which if launched at U.S. cities would be headed northward, away from the EMD installation.

      Incensed Russians have, at times, threatened to use a military strike against the Czech and Polish EMD installations if they are constructed. And Moscow also has threatened to target Western cities with its ICBMs, as it did in the old Cold War days. Russians also have used arm-twisting to pressure Czechs and Poles not to approve the EMD installation. Neither nation has given final legislative approval, but talks and progress have been achieved, including signing of a Czech-U.S. agreement to host the radar. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, July 14, 2008.)

      Pyotr Deinekin, Russian general of the army, was quoted as saying that "if these [Cuban bomber base] plans are being considered, it would be a good response to the attempts to place NATO [missile defense] bases near the Russian borders."

      Deinekin said if NATO, the United States, the Czechs and the Poles won’t heed Russian demands and jettison plans for the EMD system, and if Russia is ignored on other complaints it has raised, then why shouldn’t Russia plunge ahead with a Cuban basing plan?

      "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, according to the RIA Novosti story.

      Deinekin noted that Russia doesn’t really need any base in Cuba, because Russian strategic bombers such as the Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear can, with mid-air refueling, patrol near U.S. coasts and then return to airfields in Russia, never having to land and refuel during the missions.

      Much of this involves Russian pride and a desire to return to the old days when the former Soviet Union was one of only two superpowers, before the United States became the only superpower left on the planet.

      Russian leaders, such as Medvedev and his predecessor and current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, have pleased the Russian public with some glory-days moves such as reinstituting Russian strategic bomber patrols last summer, and submarine patrols in the Arctic area.

      That bit of bellicosity has forced NATO planes to escort the Russian strategic bombers.

      To be sure, Deinekin said Russia might use the Cuban base merely to refuel Russian strategic bombers, rather than to station them there full time, 24/7.

      Even though Deinekin may have been issuing an idle threat, rather than describing a firm Russian plan that actually will be implemented, his comments revived memories of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.

      Then, the Soviets sent a group of warships toward Cuba, bearing long-range nuclear missiles to create a Soviet missile base just minutes away from American soil.

      In Washington, President Kennedy reacted decisively, sending U.S. Navy warships to intercept the Russians. In this game of global chicken, the Russians blinked, turned tail and also abandoned plans to continue operating an intermediate-range missile base on Cuban soil.

      Flash forward to 2008.

      In the United States, the Russian media reports of Deinekin’s comments brought a swift rebuke from a senior U.S. military leader.

      Any move by Russia to establish a permanent long-range nuclear-armed bomber base would cross "a red line for the United States of America," Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff-nominee, said.

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