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Putin denies Russia to reopen Cuba spy post

President Vladimir Putin denied on Thursday Russia plans to reopen a Cold War listening post in Cuba as new US sanctions over Ukraine ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Russian broadsheet Kommersant, citing several official sources, reported on Wednesday that Moscow and Havana had agreed in principle to reopen the Lourdes spy base during Putin’s visit to the Communist-run island last week.

Putin however denied that Russia was reopening the base set up in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis saw the United States and the Soviet Union reach the brink of nuclear confrontation.

“That is not true, we have not discussed this issue,” Putin told reporters in Brasilia.

“According to an agreement with our Cuban friends we shut down our centre. We have no plans to resume its work,” he said.

The Kremlin strongman spoke just hours after Washington targeted Russian companies in the finance, military and energy sectors.

The European Union also stiffened punitive measures against Russia after fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Moscow separatists intensified.

Russia closed the Lourdes spy base south of Havana on Putin’s orders in 2001 to save money and due to a rapprochement with the United States after the September 11 attacks.

But Moscow has since shown a new interest in Latin America and its Cold War ally Cuba as relations with the West have deteriorated amid the Ukraine crisis.

Just 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the US coast, Lourdes was the Soviet Union’s largest overseas covert military outpost with up to 3,000 staff.

Ahead of Putin’s Latin American tour, Russia wrote off 90 percent of Cuba’s debt dating back to the Soviet era, totalling around $32 billion (24 billion euros).

Russia paid Cuba rent of $200 million per year to use the base during its final few years.

Some analysts suggested that Putin could use the reopening of the Cuban post as a bargaining chip in ties with Washington.

“Potentially, that agreement is possible,” Vladimir Yevseyev, head of the Public Political Studies Center, a think tank, told AFP. “But this is a political decision.”

With the reopening of the Soviet-era base Russia could intercept sensitive US information like satellite communications and radio signals from submarines and ships.