Russia to close its spy centre in Cuba

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In a move symbolising Russia's new rapprochement with the West, President Vladimir Putin announced the closure yesterday of Moscow's electronic spying centre in Cuba, a key installation throughout three decades of the Cold War.

The decision came despite pressure from President Fidel Castro not to end Russia's 40-year military presence in Cuba. Russian officials said the move was for economic reasons, freeing $200m a year for the country's strapped military budget.

US President George Bush hailed it as evidence of the improvement in relations between the former superpower rivals, vividly underlined by Moscow's alignment with Washington in the terrorist crisis. "This is another indication that the Cold War is over," Mr Bush said. "President Putin understands that Russia and America are no longer adversaries."

The base at Lourdes, near Havana, less than 200 miles from mainland Florida, was built in 1964 and recently housed 1,500 Russian personnel. It has long been the Cuban government's main source of electronic intelligence, but last year provoked a Congressional revolt that almost blocked a US debt relief package for Moscow. However it is possible that Havana will continue to operate the facilities on its own.