Russia's Strategic Use of Cuban Ports

Tuesday, June 7, 2016
By U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) in The Washington Examiner:

Russian ports and NATO

Russia's Europe-facing ports were ice-locked for part of the year until the 20th century. Even with the invention of the ice breaker, these ports still didn't grant easy access to the Mediterranean, which is of great economic and military importance to Russia.

Therefore, Russia's best option was, and has been, to borrow from other countries and use their warm water ports to extend its global reach.

Cuba is one of the most obvious examples. Even though it's not on the Mediterranean, it demonstrates how enlarged Russia's scope is with the gain of Cuba's friendly warm water ports. Russian vessels have utilized Cuba's installations, along with Nicaragua and Venezuela's, to reach west across the North Atlantic. As a result, Russia announced in 2014 that it would be reopening an "eavesdropping base" 150 miles away from U.S. soil: In Cuba. Through the access to these strategic ports, Russia's reach handily extended across the Atlantic.

Under a swath of false narratives, Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and annexed the region shortly after. This invasion secured the warm waters of Sevastopol for Russia along with a dominant position over the Black Sea.

Another key military intervention facilitated by Russia's desire to maintain its influence came in the form of Syria. Russia rallied to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad's abusive regime there, and this, too, awarded them the assurance of a continued naval base at Tartus in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Russia's recent aggressive interventions were driven in part by its desire to access the world's blue waters. And now we've seen some of our own NATO allies facilitating this access by accomodating the Russian navy. Russian ships routinely call into Spanish ports in the enclaves across the strait of Gibraltar. Greece has also lent access to a naval base.

Theoretically our NATO neighbors to Russia shouldn't feel nervous; their fears should be allayed by NATO's collective defense clause, which states that an attack against one ally is an attack against all of them. But a strong NATO requires sacrifice: All members must remember that being a member of the alliance, and reaping the benefits that come through its solidarity, requires this essential component.

America has poured its resources into protecting its allies within the NATO alliance, providing assurance with deployments, and continuing a robust level of defense expenditures. We've sacrificed, and so must every member state. There is unity in strength, and that is what we need to stave off Russia's aggression.

Accountability must accompany our mutual commitment and friendship.

Recently I moved to increase transparency by introducing an amendment to require reporting on each country that allows Russian naval vessels to use its ports. This amendment, which the House included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed two weeks ago, should shine an uncomfortable light on governments that feel the need to welcome Russian warships and submarines.

Even with the invention of the ice breaker, Russia still desperately needs warm water ports for further expansion and aggression. Governments across the globe should stand unified in denying them access to our waters.