220. Telegram From the Department of State to All American Republic Diplomatic Posts1

236643. Subject: Soviet Ground Forces Unit in Cuba.

1. (Secret-entire text)

2. Recent confirmation of a Soviet ground forces unit in Cuba raises new concerns about Cuba’s increasingly close military and economic ties with the Soviet Union. We would hope that all countries in the hemisphere share our concern about the Cuban/Soviet relationship. Accordingly, addressees should approach host governments to sensitize them on this. The purpose of this demarche is to explain recent events relating to the Soviet combat forces in Cuba and to begin to encourage host governments to think about the Soviet-Cuban problem. Posts may draw on following talking points as well as recent state[Page 646]ments by the President, the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor.2 Talking points should not be left in writing.

3. Soviet ground forces unit

—We have recently confirmed, through multiple intelligence sources, the presence in Cuba of what appears to be a Soviet combat unit. Rumors and fragmentary intelligence concerning such a unit have been in circulation for some time. But this is the first time we have been able to confirm the presence of a Soviet ground forces unit on the island.

—Elements of the unit appear to have been there since at least the mid-1970’s. We estimate that it consists of 2,000 to 3,000 men. The unit includes motorized rifle armor, and artillery battallions, and combat and service support elements. This is in addition to an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Soviet military advisory and technical personnel in Cuba.

—The combat unit’s mission is as yet unclear, and we are pressing the Soviets for an explanation. Possible missions include protecting Soviet intelligence facilities, protecting Castro and protecting Soviet installations.

—Ground forces per se did not figure in our bilateral understanding with the Soviets, which were directed toward offensive weapons.

—Nonetheless, we are naturally concerned about the presence of Soviet combat forces in Cuba, among other reasons because it represents the stationing in Latin America of non-advisory military forces from outside the hemisphere, and because of recent Cuban activities in this hemisphere.

—We have in recent months expressed to the Soviets our concern over the Soviet/Cuban military relationship. Within the last few days, we are making clear to the Soviets that the presence of this unit can exacerbate our relationship. We have also raised this with the Cubans. We will continue our discussion on this subject.

—What concerns us most about these troops and what should be of concern to all the countries of the Americas is the fact that the discovery of a Soviet combat force coincides with a heightened and dangerous collaboration between the Soviet Union and Cuba in recent years. This is true in military, economic, intelligence and foreign policy activities. The ongoing attempt by Cuba to transplant the non-aligned movement to the Soviet camp is only the most visible indication of [Page 647] the new and extraordinary collaboration between Cuba and the USSR. This concerns the US, as we believe it does other countries in the hemisphere.

4. Soviet/Cuban military ties

—Since 1975, the Soviet Union began to transform the Cuban armed forces from a home defense force into a modern military power with formidable offensive capabilities, larger than any in Latin America except Brazil. It is an army of more than 160,000 men, including ready reserve.

—Soviet arms deliveries to Cuba averaged somewhat more than 10,000 tons annually during the early 1970’s; since 1975 they have averaged nearly double that figure.

—Cuba now has MIG–23’s, AN–26’s, AN F-class (diesel attack) submarine, T–62 tanks, surface-to-air missiles and multiple rocket launchers.

—Cuba’s Air Force includes over 200 jet fighters. Cuba is rapidly expanding its naval base at Cienfuegos.

—Cuba maintains nearly 40,000 troops in Africa as well as military advisors in Asia and Latin America.

—Cuba receives its military equipment at no cost and makes available to the Soviet Union military facilities as well as intelligence and military communications installations.

5. Soviet-Cuban economic ties

—Cuban economic dependence on the Soviet Union has continued to increase since Moscow first began supporting the Cuban economy in the early 1960s. The increase in subsidies to Cuba has been particularly notable since 1975, growing roughly threefold since that year to its present level of about $3 billion per year, or roughly one fourth of the Cuban GNP in 1978. By comparison, Soviet subsidies to Cuba during the entire period 1960–1970 amounted to the equivalent of about $1 billion. This figure does not include the increasingly large quantity of grant military aid the Soviets have provided the Cubans.

—Nearly three-fourths of Cuban exports go to the USSR, which supplies 60 percent of Cuba’s imports—including most foodstuffs and a large proportion of capital goods.

—Cuba is a full member of CEMA; Cuba, Mongolia, and Vietnam are the only non-Warsaw Pact members that participate fully in CEMA.

—Cuban dependence is so great that in the absence of Soviet economic support, there would be an immediate drop in Cuba’s domestic economic activity and little chance of economic growth for several years. The bleak long-term prospects for the Cuban economy and Cuba’s increasing military activities abroad will probably mean increased economic dependence on the Soviet Union in the future.

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6. Following points should also be made in your presentation:

—Relatively small numbers of Soviets present no direct threat to US security, but nevertheless raise important questions which Soviets have not thus far answered.

—We are concerned about increased collaboration between Soviet Union and Cuba and about the implied relationship to Cuba’s involvement in revolutionary activities in Central America and the Caribbean. Consequently, we are strongly pressing the Soviets on this issue.

—The Carter administration has sought to build a new relationship with Latin America based on mutual respect, non-intervention, and multilateral consultation and cooperation. We believe increased Cuban activities threaten the countries of the hemisphere and the relationship we are trying to build. This is why we are consulting.

7. Please report reactions soonest.

8. For Managua. Do not carry out this instruction.

9. For Bridgetown. Do not carry out this instruction in Grenada.

10. For Kingston and Georgetown: use discretion in conveying details.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790411–0637. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information Immediate to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Drafted by Ralph Braibanti (ARA/CCA); cleared by Newsom, Viron Vaky (ARA), Mark Parris (EUR/SOV), Robert Pastor (NSC), David Smith (INR/RAR), Miles Frechette (ARA/CCA), and Jeffrey Buczacki (S/S–O); approved by Vance.
  2. The statement made by Vance, August 31, and the President’s remarks, September 7, are both in Department of State Bulletin, October 1979, pp. 63–64. Both statements indicate the size and type of unit stationed in Cuba and what that means for U.S.-Soviet relations.