218. Memorandum From Viron P. Vaky of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

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  • Soviets and Castro: What’s Up?

Relations between the Soviets and Castro are warmer than they have ever been. Use of Cuba by Soviet naval units and an exchange of visits by Defense Ministers indicate military relations are also warm. This raises the possibility that some arrangement or plan relating to military or strategic matters between the two has been or is being made. We ought to study this.

The following circumstances are worthy of note:

  • —Soviet fleet units visited Cuba and the Caribbean in July 1969. We did not react.
  • —The Soviet Minister of Defense visited Cuba for eight days in December 1969. What that visit meant or what was discussed is not known.
  • —The Cuban Minister of the Armed Forces, Raul Castro has been visiting the USSR since April 4. He is still there.
  • —In his Lenin Day speech (my memo of May 1)—the first significant speech on foreign policy in over a year—Castro said not only would Cuba not reduce military ties with the Soviets (in answer to the US position that this should be a condition to reentry into the OAS) but “we will always be ready to have closer military ties with the Soviet Union.” He said some very kind things about the USSR and Soviet leadership in the revolutionary movement.
  • —Castro has been very confident lately; in his Lenin Day speech he reaffirmed Cuban support for “authentic” revolutionary movements.
  • —Soviet Bear Aircraft have twice landed in Cuba and returned; ostensibly these were in conjunction with Soviet “Okean” naval maneuvers.
  • —Soviet fleet units—submarine, subtender, guided missile cruiser and destroyer—are again currently visiting Cuba.
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All of these events may be coincidental. But we should consider the possibility that they form a pattern that may mean something else. Possible explanations:

  • a) Simple flexing of Soviet military muscles; showing itself to be mobile throughout the world.
  • b) Use of Cuba as a de facto bunkering for naval units and/or the large planes, with the Soviets probing to see whether we will react.
  • c) Building up to maintenance of Soviet naval units in the Caribbean/Southern Atlantic on a more or less permanent basis, refueling and resupplying out of Cuba—in effect a de facto rather than formal base in Cuba.

What is Castro’s price for his cooperation, if (b) or (c) is the case? He surely will wish to exact something:

  • a) More weapons and training?
  • b) Soviet support or cooperation for clandestine Cuban “export of revolution”?
  • c) Use of Soviet naval units in the Caribbean to cloak Castro’s efforts to infiltrate men and arms into other countries?
  • d) Joint maneuvers, invocation of Soviet military power not only as a cloak but as support for Castro’s efforts, a la Mediterranean/Near East?

Quite clearly, we need more facts. State (ARA) has asked DIA to test with known facts the hypothesis of possible Soviet/Cuban understandings like the above. I have asked CIA to cooperate. We should have some read-out in about 14 days.

What should we do? The Soviets may in fact be probing to see if we react. If not, they may be led to keep on as long as we do not. It may either be planned testing or improvising as they go along as no one challenges. How serious Soviet naval presence would be would have to be studied.

This suggests the possibility at least of a quiet word to the Soviets about their fleet units, rather than no reaction. Something now may be easier than later if anything is in the works. It also suggests the desirability of a careful weighing of evidence and options. Who should structure this? ARA’s IG should not; a de facto task force perhaps; but since the question relates more to the overall Soviet/SALT, world strategic picture, rather than just Latin America, there may be some other way you would prefer to do it.

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I recommend that you meet with me and Hal Sonnenfeldt to talk about question as soon as possible.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 780, Country Files, Latin America, Cuba, Vol. II, 1970. Secret. Sent for action. Kissinger approved the recommendation on May 19. A copy was sent to Sonnenfeldt. A note bearing Kissinger’s initials appearing on the upper right corner of the cover sheet reads: “Do memo for Pres. re Soviet strategic forces in Caribbean, May 19, 1970.” In a May 20 memorandum, Vaky asked Dave Young of the NSC Staff to schedule the meeting. An unsigned note on the bottom of the memorandum reads, “Noon 5/23?” No record of the meeting has been found. (Ibid.)
  2. Vaky reported on improved Soviet-Cuban relationships, particularly noting warm military to military relations and an increase in Soviet naval deployments to Cuba. Vaky recommended that he and Kissinger meet with National Security Council Staff member Hal Sonnenfeldt to discuss the situation.