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23 Jul, 2008 11:34

‘Flight plans’ could spark new Cuban missile crisis

An unidentified source in the Russian military says Moscow could be ready to resume strategic bomber flights over the Caribbean. It’s claimed the long-range aircraft could refuel at a Cuban aerodrome. The U.S. military has hinted that such a step would cr

Quoting an anonymous senior air force official, Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reports that top generals were considering sending nuclear-capable strategic bombers within sight of the U.S. borders. Officials are quoted to have said the long-range aircraft could refuel in Cuba and that the communist island could one day permanently host a Russian bomber squadron.

According to Izvestia the reported plan could be part of a response to U.S. intentions to deploy anti-ballistic missile systems in Eastern Europe – in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Former defence ministry official Leonid Ivashov told the newspaper that Cuba was suitable as a brief stopovers destination for Russian bombers rather than a permanent base.

In response to the Izvestia daily report another former Russian top air force commander Pyotr Deinekin said that strategic bombers’ flights over Cuba would be “a worth answer to the NATO bases near Russia’s borders.”

The U.S. has responded with warnings against such a move.

Nominee to the US Air Force's Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz said: “We should stand strong and indicate that is something that crosses a threshold, crosses a red line for the United States of America”.

The White House has refrained from commenting because the Kremlin has not officially backed the proposal.

A resumption of the bombing missions would mean a renewal of military co-operation between Cold War allies Moscow and Havana.  Those ties ended in 2002 when Russia withdrew its last military base from the island, including a radar station at Lourdes.

The flights would also revive memories of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when the U.S. discovered that Russia was secretly deploying mid-range nuclear missiles on Cuba.  That led to a terrifying two weeks where the world teetered on the verge of nuclear war.

The crisis was defused when Moscow withdrew its missiles from the island.  However, the USSR returned in 1970 with a nuclear submarine base in Cienfuegos.

Another crisis erupted in 1979 when two Russian MiG-23 fighter squadrons were discovered on Cuba.  Tensions were defused when it was discovered they were not armed with nuclear weapons.

Russia resumed patrolling the Pacific and North Atlantic with long-range strategic bombers less than a  year ago after a 15-year break.