Cuba–Soviet Union relations

Cuba–Soviet Union relations
Cuba–Soviet Union relations
Map indicating locations of Cuba and Soviet Union


Soviet Union

After the establishment of diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union after the Cuban revolution of 1959, Cuba became increasingly dependent on Soviet markets and military aid becoming an ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In 1972 Cuba joined the COMECON, an economic organization of states designed to create cooperation among the socialist planned economies dominated by the large economy of the Soviet Union. Moscow kept in regular contact with Havana, sharing varying close relations until the collapse of the bloc in 1991. After the demise of the Soviet Union, Cuba entered an era of economic hardship known as the Special Period in Time of Peace.



Fidel Castro embracing Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Pre-Revolution relations

The first diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Cuba developed during World War II. Maxim Litvinov, Soviet ambassador to the U.S., set up the first Soviet embassy in Havana in 1943, and Cuban diplomats under the auspices of Fulgencio Batista visited Moscow the same year.[1] During this period the Soviets made a number of contacts with Cuba’s Communists who had a foothold in Batista's governing alliance. Litvinov's successor Andrei Gromyko became ambassador to both the U.S. and Cuba though he never visited the island during his tenure. After the war, the governments of Ramón Grau and Carlos Prío sought to isolate the Cuban Communist party and relations with the Soviet Union were abandoned. Batista's return to power in 1952 following a coup saw the closure of the embassy.[2]

After the revolution

The Cuban Revolution which propelled Fidel Castro to power on January 1, 1959, initially attracted little attention in Moscow. Soviet planners, resigned to U.S. dominance over the Western hemisphere, were unprepared for the possibility of a future ally in the region. According to later testimonies from Nikita Khrushchev, neither the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee’s nor KGB intelligence had any idea who Castro was or what he was fighting for. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev advised them to consult Cuba’s Communists who reported that Castro was a representative of the "haute bourgeoisie" and working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.[3]

In February 1960 Khrushchev sent his deputy Anastas Mikoyan to Cuba to discover what motivated Castro following Castro's failed trip to Washington where he was refused a meeting with President Dwight D. Eisenhower.[4] According to reports, Khrushchev's aides had initially tried to characterize Castro as an untrustworthy American agent.[3] Mikoyan returned from Cuba with the opinion that Castro's new administration should be helped economically and politically. Though there was no talk yet of military assistance.

Washington's increasing economic embargo led Cuba to hurriedly seek new markets to avert economic disaster. Castro asked for help from the Soviets and in response Khrushchev approved the temporary purchase of Cuban sugar in exchange for Soviet fuel. This deal was to play a part in sustaining the Cuban economy for many years to come. Following the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961, Fidel Castro announced publicly that Cuba was to become a socialist republic. Khrushchev sent congratulations to Castro for repelling the invasion, but privately believed the Americans would soon bring the weight of their regular army to bear. The defense of Cuba became a matter of prestige for the Soviet Union, and Khruschev believed that the U.S. would block all access to the island whether by sea or air. Even in the 1980's the Soviet aid wasn't very important, but rather a regular trade with Cuba of more than $8.5 billion in 1989 was reached. But already in 1990 the trade was reduced to $4.5 billion.[5] The Soviets planned a military strategy designed to make Washington understand that an assault on Cuba would have dire consequences.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Khrushchev agreed a deployment plan in May 1962 majorly as a response to NATO positioning their nuclear missiles in Turkey in 1958, and by late July over sixty Soviet ships were en route to Cuba, some of them already carrying military material. A U.S. U-2 flight on the morning of October 14 photographed a series of SAM (surface-to-air missile) sites being constructed. In a televised address on October 22, U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced the discovery of the installations and proclaimed that any nuclear missile attack from Cuba would be regarded as an attack by the Soviet Union and would be responded to accordingly. Khrushchev sent letters to Kennedy on October 23 and 24 claiming the deterrent nature of the missiles in Cuba and the peaceful intentions of the Soviet Union. On October 26, the Soviets offered to withdraw the missiles in return for a U.S. guarantee not to invade Cuba or support any invasion and to remove all missiles set in southern Italy and in Turkey. This deal was accepted and the crisis abated.

The missile crisis had a significant impact on the countries involved. While it led to a thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations, it significantly strained Cuban-Soviet relations. Castro was not consulted throughout the Kennedy-Khrushchev negotiations and the unilateral Soviet withdrawal of the missiles and bombers wounded Castro's pride and prestige.[6] It also began to establish Castro and his country as a perennial thorn to the side of the United States even beyond the fact of its communist revolution.

Lourdes SIGINT Station

In 1962 the Soviets created a SIGINT facility in Lourdes, just south of Havana. The SIGINT facility at Lourdes was among the most significant intelligence collection capabilities targeting the United States. It allowed the Soviets to monitor all U.S. military and civilian geosynchronous communications satellites.

Castro's trip to Moscow

After the crisis relations between the two states cooled, in June 1963 Castro made a historic visit to the Soviet Union, returning to Cuba to recall the construction projects he had seen, specifically the Siberian hydro power stations. Castro also spoke about the development of Soviet agriculture, repeatedly emphasizing the necessity for using Soviet experience in solving internal tasks of socialist construction in Cuba. Castro asserted that the Soviet people "expressed by their deeds their love for and solidarity with Cuba". On the trip Castro and Khrushchev negotiated new sugar export deals and agricultural methods to solve the main problem in increasing the output of sugar.[7]

Despite Soviet attempts to appease Castro, Cuban-Soviet relations were still marred by a number of difficulties. Castro increased contacts with the People's Republic of China, exploiting the growing Sino-Soviet dispute and proclaiming his intention to remain neutral and maintain fraternal relations with all socialist states.[8] The Sino-Soviet split also impacted on Castro's relationship with Che Guevara, who took a more Maoist view following ideological conflict between the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China. In 1966, Guevara left for Bolivia in an ill-fated attempt to stir up revolution against the country's government.

Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia

On 23 August 1968 Castro made a public gesture to the Soviet Union that reaffirmed their support in him. Two days after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to repress the Prague Spring, Castro took to the airwaves and publicly denounced the Czech rebellion. Castro warned the Cuban people about the Czechoslovakian 'counterrevolutionaries', who "were moving Czechoslovakia towards capitalism and into the arms of imperialists". He called the leaders of the rebellion "the agents of West Germany and fascist reactionary rabble."[9] In return for his public backing of the invasion, at a time when many Soviet allies were deeming the invasion an infringement of Czechoslovakia's sovereignty, the Soviets bailed out the Cuban economy with extra loans and an immediate increase in oil exports.[citation needed]

Dissolution of the Soviet Union

When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Cuba in 1989, the close relationship between Moscow and Havana was strained by Gorbachev's implementation of economic and political reforms in the USSR. "We are witnessing sad things in other socialist countries, very sad things," lamented Castro in November 1989, in reference to the reforms that were sweeping such communist allies as the Soviet Union, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland.[10] The subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 had an immediate and devastating effect on Cuba. The Soviet Union and Cuba signed a trade protocol in 1991 introducing changes to the trading relationship and a shift to world market prices for all traded commodities.[11] The Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), which had once accounted for almost 85 percent of Cuban trade, was dissolved 1991. Trade with the Soviet Union declined by more than 90 percent and trade with eastern European countries decreased almost completely. The Soviet Union alone imported 80% of all Cuban sugar and 40% of all Cuban citrus. Oil imports dropped from 13 million tons in 1989 to about 3 million tons in 1993 from Russia.[12] The dissolution of the Soviet Union also halted construction at Juragua Nuclear Power Plant, the construction of which was aimed at alleviating Cuba's dependency upon foreign oil.

See also


  1. ^ Hugh Thomas : Cuba : The Pursuit of Freedom p.731
  2. ^ Richard Gott: Cuba a new history p.181
  3. ^ a b The Cuban Missile Crisis as seen from the Kremlin American Heritage
  4. ^ Castro: The great survivor BBC News
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ 1962: World relief as Cuban missile crisis ends BBC
  8. ^ Cuba: Elections and Events 1960-1970 Official website of the University of San Diego
  9. ^ Castro, Fidel (August 24, 1968). "Castro comments on Czechoslovakia crisis". FBIS. 
  10. ^ "Castro Laments 'Very Sad Things' in Bloc". Washington Post. 1989-11-09. Retrieved 2006-05-22. 
  11. ^ "Cuba's transition to market-based energy prices". The Energy Journal. October 1992. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 

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