#PutinAtWar: Russians Back to Cuba

A brief look into Russia’s plans to revive Cold-War era military base in Cuba

(Source: Business Insider)

This week, a number of Russian and Western media outlets reported Russia is aiming to re-open a signals intelligence (SIGINT) base in Lourdes, Cuba. This is not the first time, these claims were made publicly, especially by the Russian media. @DFRLab took a deeper look into the history of Lourdes base and possible Russian plans.

The Lourdes SIGINT base was originally opened in 1964, right after the Cuban missile crisis. The base was considered among the most significant intelligence collection capabilities targeting the United States. Not only was the base one of the biggest and largest in the world at that time, but was also located less than 150 km from Key West, Florida. The base was jointly operated by Russian military intelligence (GRU) and Cuban intelligence services.

The complex was capable of monitoring a wide array of commercial and government communications between the United States and Europe and general activity in the southeastern states, which is home to significant military installations. The Lourdes base served as a mission ground station and analytical facility supporting Russian SIGINT satellites. Ivan Konovalov, head of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Trends Studies, estimated that the Lourdes base was used to acquire at least 50 percent of the Soviet Union’s radio-intercepted intelligence from the United States. The base was shut down by the Cubans because of financial issues and U.S. pressure. After closure, the base was partly converted into the Computer Technology University of Havana.

The changes that took place at the base since its closing down in 2002 were substantial. Satellite imagery shows a massive gradual expansion of the complex.

Changes in the Lourdes SIGINT base from 2002 to 2017. (Source: GoogleMaps)

Even though the complex was expanded, the main operational facilities remain, including the HQ administrational area, space associated electronics areas, barracks and dorms for soldiers, and a highway runway for heavy lift cargo aircraft.

Close up of the Lourdes SIGINT base. Background: (Source: GoogleMaps); Info: (Source: Business Insider); (Source: WikiMapia)

On November 7th, a number of media outlets announced the possible re-opening of the Lourdes Base. According to these articles, two key advisors to Vladimir Putin have publicly urged him for re-opening. Frants Klintsevic, deputy head of Russia’s Senate Defence and Security Committee, told RIA Novosti:

“Our base on Cuba, naval and aviation, should exist. It’s a key issue.”

Klintsevic’s statements were echoed by Colonel General Viktor Bondarev, the Committee’s Chairman and Russia’s former Aerospace Forces Commander:

“I believe under the condition of increased tension in the world and frank intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, Russia’s historical partners, our return to Latin America is not ruled out. Of course, this should be done in coordination with the Cubans”.

This is not the first time that Russian media outlets publicly announce possible re-openings of the base in Cuba. Nonetheless, significant developments in the base can be seen using satellite imagery — the complex was widely expanded. Taking into consideration Russia’s willingness to increase its global presence, clearly seen in Syria, these claims are likely to be true. @DFRLab will continue to monitor Russian military base developments across the globe.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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