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Cuba–Soviet Union relations

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Title: Cuba–Soviet Union relations  
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Subject: Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba–Trinidad and Tobago relations, Cuba–Greece relations, Soviet Union–Tonga relations, Cuba–India relations
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Cuba–Soviet Union relations

1960s poster with Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev: "Long live the eternal, indestructible friendship and cooperation between the Soviet and Cuban peoples"

After the establishment of diplomatic ties with the 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 1980s 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]

Cuban Missile Crisis

Khrushchev agreed on a deployment plan in May 1962 chiefly in 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 in 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, 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.

Foreign Relations in the Gorbachev Era

With Cuba’s proximity to the United States, Castro and his regime became an important Cold War ally for the Soviets. The relationship was for the most part an economic one, with the Soviet Union providing military, economic and political assistance to Cuba. In 1972, Cuba gained membership into the Council of Mutual Economic Aid (CMEA), which enhanced strong cooperation in the realm of national economic planning and gave Moscow increasingly more economic control over Cuba.[10] From 1976 to 1980, the Soviets invested $1.7 billion (USD) on the construction and remodeling of Cuban factories and industry. Additionally, between 1981 and 1984 Cuba received approximately $750 billion (USD) a year in Soviet military assistance.[11]

When Gorbachev came to power in March 1985, Cuba remained an important Cold War propaganda tool for the Soviet Union. Economic investment and trade in Cuba was at its highest; in 1985 trade between the two nations accounted for over 70 percent of Cuba’s entire trade.[12] The two nations continued to collaborate on projects in the sciences, technology, sports, and education.[13] However, throughout the Gorbachev era diplomatic relations cooled until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the termination of Soviet-Cuban relations.

Heightened tensions best characterize diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union throughout the Gorbachev era. The introduction of Gorbachev’s reforms of perestroika, glasnost, and his “new thinking” on foreign policy set off an economic crisis in the Soviet Union, opened up the Soviets and their allies to increasing internal criticism from dissidents, and sparked an ideological conflict with Fidel Castro’s regime.


The Soviet Union faced a varying array of problems when Gorbachev took power after the death of former General Secretary, Konstantin Chernenko, in 1985. However, Gorbachev’s attempts at reforms not only provoked the strengthening of a vocal opposition frustrated over the pace of reforms, but it also placed the Soviets at odds with Cuba. The transition during perestroika towards market reforms weakened Soviet currency, resulting in a reduction of basic subsidies and widespread shortages of basic goods, a loss of jobs, and decreased productivity.[14] These economic difficulties spread to other areas of Eastern Europe and other Soviet satellites, such as Cuba. In essence, perestroika progressively undermined the Soviet Union’s ability to live up to its economic commitments to Cuba.[15]

In 1986 Castro embarked on his own set of reforms labeled the “rectification of errors” campaign. Castro intended for these reforms to forestall or eradicate any reformist ideas spreading in Cuba prompted by radical political and economic reforms in the U.S.S.R. or Eastern Europe.[15] The policies of the rectification of errors and perestroika were diametrically opposed and highlighted the unraveling of the Soviet-Cuban relationship.

The effects of glasnost on political criticism and discussion in the U.S.S.R. further strained the Cuban-Soviet relationship. While Cuba took a cautious approach in reacting to Gorbachev’s reforms, post-1987 the Soviet elite grew more critical of Soviet foreign policy towards Cuba. Critical articles in Soviet newspapers soon emerged, focusing on the lack of efficiency of the Cuban economy and the illogical nature of the terms of trade.[16] Although Havana could not afford to upset the Soviets due to economic dependence on their ally, in November 1989 Castro banned the sale of Soviet publications on the island. He stated, “we could not hesitate to prevent the circulation of certain Soviet publications which have been against the policies of… socialism. They are for the ideas of imperialism, change and the counter-revolution.”[17]

In his visit to Cuba in April 1989, Gorbachev attempted to convince Castro to take a more positive attitude towards reformism and more flexibility in fixing Cuba’s economy. Gorbachev was only the second Soviet leader to visit Latin America, and rather than resolve the increasing tensions between the two nations, the visit was mostly a symbolic gesture. Despite Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze declaring the meeting a “milestone in Soviet-Cuban relations,” Soviet-Cuban relations rapidly declined following Gorbachev’s return to Moscow.[18]


By 1990, Moscow found it increasingly difficult to meet their economic responsibilities to Cuba. While in 1985 they had paid over 11 times the world price for Cuban sugar, in 1989 they only paid three times the price.[19] As the economy continued to decline, members of the Soviet elite grew more critical of the unequal terms of trade. For many, “it seemed contrary to the nature of perestroika to continue to prop up an inefficient Cuban economy while struggling to reform the Soviet economy.”[19] This forced the Cuban government to search elsewhere for foreign investment and trade. In what was called a “zero option approach,” the Cuban government in 1990 and 1991 established tariff-free trading agreements to boost imports and exports, gave foreign entities more autonomy and generous tax incentives, and began to diversify the economy, focusing more on the pharmaceutical industry and tourism.[20]

More fundamental change in Soviet-Cuba economic relations came with a new one-year trade agreement (as opposed to five-year) signed in late 1990.[19] The agreement set sugar at world market prices with the intent to end some of Cuba’s dependence on the Soviet Union. Then, in June 1991, the Soviets disbanded CMEA, a huge basis for their allyship in the past, further straining the economic situation in Cuba.[19]

In the international sphere, Gorbachev’s “new thinking” attempted to remove Marxist ideology from East-West relations. Soviet foreign policy took on a new orientation that stressed international independence, non-offensive defense, multilateral cooperation, and use of the political process to solve security issues.[21] At first, Castro took a relatively positive outlook on “new thinking:” “this was the first time since the appearance of these awesome weapons of mass destruction… that such a categorical, resolute and concrete proposal had been made,” he commented.[22] However, ideological divergences over disarmament, international conflicts in Nicaragua and Angola, and the debt crisis in the developing world quickly created irreconcilable differences between Castro and Gorbachev. Demonstrative of the cooling of Cold War tensions and “new thinking,” Gorbachev announced on September 11, 1991 that all Soviet troops would be removed from Cuba.[23] This move symbolized Gorbachev’s efforts to eliminate Marxism from Soviet foreign policy, which Castro believed undermined Cuba’s struggle against U.S. imperialism.

After the failed coup attempt on August 1991, Cuban leaders, feeling they had less to lose, began to openly criticize the reforms in the U.S.S.R. An editorial in Granma several days after the coup wrote, “in the Soviet Union, politicians favor the process of privatization and the acceleration to the market economy. These positions have resulted in the development of these events.”[24]

During the period from 1985-1991, Soviet-Cuban relations continued, as Moscow wanted the relationship reformed, not terminated and the Cubans relied on continued Soviet investment and trade. Perestroika and Gorbachev’s other reforms quickly eroded the economic and political alliance between the Cubans and Soviets as it became increasingly difficult for the Soviets to maintain their trade commitments to Cuba. After 1989 Castro publicly criticized Soviet reformism, yet he hoped Soviet communism would survive perestroika.

Dissolution of the Soviet Union

The subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 had an immediate and devastating effect on Cuba. Cuba lost valuable aid and trading privileges after the fall of the Soviet Union, soon after entering a fiscal crisis.[25] While throughout the 1990s and into the present, Cuba maintained and built up relationships with other Latin American neighbors and non-aligned countries, as the only Marxist nation within the Western Hemisphere, Cuba was no longer able to maintain their political status.[26] After the shift to world market prices under the 1991 trade agreement and the dissolution of CMEA, which had once accounted for almost 85 percent of Cuban trade, trade with the Soviet Union declined by more than 90 percent. 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.[27] The end of communism in Europe resulted in the end of Cuban-Soviet relations and great isolation and economic hardship in Cuba.

List of Soviet ambassadors in Cuba

As per the Russian Embassy's site.[28]

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. ^
  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. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b c d
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ List of Soviet and Russian ambassadors in Cuba

External links

  • Russian Embassy in Cuba - official site; contains history information (Russian) (Spanish)
  • Lourdes (Cuba) Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) facility
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