MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Defence Ministry officials on Monday poured cold water on a newspaper report that suggested Moscow could use Cuba as a refuelling base for nuclear-capable bombers.
Izvestia newspaper quoted a “highly placed source” as saying Russia could land Tu-160 supersonic bombers nicknamed “White Swans” in Cuba as a response to a planned U.S. missile defence shield in Europe which Moscow opposes.
“Will the White Swan settle on the Island of Freedom ? Russian military aircraft may return to Cuba,” it said in a front-page headline.
The newspaper cited a “highly placed interlocutor in the headquarters of strategic aviation” as saying the possibility of using Cuba for landing the supersonic bombers had been discussed but no political decision had been taken on this.
The Kremlin declined immediate comment. The Defence Ministry questioned the story, saying it was written under a false name and quoted a source at an organisation that did not exist.
“Were our strategic bombers ever deployed in Cuba before?” a Defence Ministry official said when contacted by Reuters by telephone and asked whether bombers would be “returning” to the Caribbean island, 90 miles (150 km) from the U.S. coast.
Izvestia editor-in-chief Vladimir Mamontov stood by the story and said several of his journalists had worked under a pseudonym because of the story’s sensitivity.
“The first remark was really made by a very competent person,” Mamontov told Reuters.
Russia says U.S. plans to place parts of a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic threaten its security and that it will take unspecified retaliatory measures.
Former Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Moscow to pull out from a Cold-War listening post on Cuba in 2001 but ordered the military last August to resume Cold War-era flights of strategic bombers around the globe.
Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Timothy Heritage
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